Automatic for the people

Autonomous vehicles are on the horizon, bringing with them huge opportunities for Europe’s citizens and its industries, writes Elzbieta Bienkowska.
credit: Adobe Stock

By Elzbieta Bienkowska

17 Jul 2019

The European automotive industry is a global leader and innovator in automotive design and production. It produced over 19 million motor vehicles in 2018 (20 percent of global production) a trade surplus of € 84.4 billion and currently creates some 14 million jobs.

However, it will only retain leadership if we seize the opportunities brought by connected and automated mobility. Automated vehicles provide opportunities for new services such as shared mobility and new job possibilities for EU workers.

This is why, in May 2018, the European Commission delivered an EU-wide strategy for connected and automated driving based on three pillars. First, ensuring that key infrastructures and technologies are developed in Europe.

This is crucial for EU jobs. Second, guaranteeing that connected and automated driving is safe. This is a prerequisite; by excluding the risk of reckless driving or human error, future cars will be much safer.


Third, ensuring that connected and automated mobility genuinely benefits EU citizens. Otherwise, what is the point? The emergence of connected and automated cars involves many new technologies such as new sensors, AI, 5G networks, 3D maps and Galileo.

This represents a great opportunity for new jobs and investments, as long as Europe does not rely on third country suppliers.

This is a major concern, as these technologies are also strategic for sectors such as defence or communications. Our dependence can be reduced by developing these technologies here in Europe, although it will require significant investment.

This is why we have ensured that the EU is already contributing through funding and targeted investments. The EU’s Galileo navigation system, the world’s most precise satellite system, is a good example of developing cutting-edge technology in Europe.

The EU must link research, innovation and policymaking by supporting key projects. A good example is the EU project “L3PILOT”, which aims at testing automated cars on motorways.

“This represents a great opportunity for new jobs and investments, as long as Europe does not rely on third country suppliers”

These are the most extensive tests on open roads in the world, and will help advance technological developments and legal issues, such as traffic rules that differ from one Member State to another.

It is also important to link research on vehicles with road and telecom infrastructure activities, which is why the EU Platform to coordinate testing on open roads was launched in June 2019.

This expert group provides the Commission with advice and support in coordinating testing of Connected and Automated Mobility, including topics related to coordination of the research agenda, road transport infrastructure, telecom infrastructure, cybersecurity and road safety.

In the past five years, the EU has invested € 300 million into connected and automated mobility under Horizon 2020 and Connecting Europe Facility. It will continue to do so through funding under Horizon Europe.

However, these efforts will not be enough if safety is not ensured. Advancing the right and adaptive regulation on safety for automated vehicles will be central for the uptake of Connected and Automated Driving. The Commission has been working hard to develop a comprehensive legal framework.

The recent agreement reached between the three EU institutions on the new Vehicle Safety Regulation is an important step.

“The EU’s Galileo navigation system, the world’s most precise satellite system, is a good example of developing cutting-edge technology in Europe”

Thanks to our cooperation with the Romanian presidency and the great work by Ms. Róza Thun, the Parliament’s rapporteur on this file, as of 2022, we will provide the legal framework for approving automated and connected vehicles – a world first.

It will also mandate a number of driving assistant systems such as automated braking or lane keeping systems, therefore ensuring a critical mass of technologies that are relevant for automated vehicles. There is still a lot of work remaining to set detailed rules for safe and secure automated vehicles.

This will be the focus of the new Commission in the next two years. In the meantime, the Commission is working with Member States on guidelines for approving automated vehicles. However, automated and connected vehicles will only be successful if they bring benefits to society.

The Commission’s Joint Research Centre analysed the impact of their impact on jobs. It concluded that unprecedented mobility opportunities hold the potential to unlock huge safety, environmental and efficiency benefits. At the same time, it will create profound changes to the labour market.

While some jobs and skills will become less relevant, new opportunities requiring new and more advanced skills will emerge. It is also important to ensure that these vehicles are designed with human dignity and personal freedom of choice in mind.

In April this year, the first meeting of the Commission’s Ethics group on automated mobility took place. The challenges posed by Connected and Automated Mobility are manifold.

We have taken measures to address them and we have laid a solid foundation for the incoming Commission to ensure that there is a coordinated EU approach, capable of delivering a clean, autonomous and safe transport system for all.