Europe needs a wake-up call

Whereas it was mainly cultural and political developments that changed the world in the 1980s or 1990s, tech innovations are the driver of today’s tremendous social, political and economic developments. When looking at the technological improvements in the USA, Asia and part of the Middle East, Europe needs to speed up, catch up, and renew its ambitions to shape the digital world, because innovation policy will decide how we can ensure our European way of life in the future.

Europe has a key advantage when it comes to innovation

Thanks to our values, Europe will ride the next wave of innovation. Our political stability and our social market economy are valuable assets and place us at a unique competitive advantage to be at the forefront of the upcoming digital transformation period. Our continent now has a unique opportunity to shape the next wave of the digital revolution: in the upcoming years, new technologies will fundamentally transform traditional industries and enter into everybody’s daily life, well beyond just communication habits. The next digital wave is not only about IT skills and new business models. Its success will depend on our ability to understand how to implement innovation into daily life. Europe is the best suited to respond to this challenge, because our European way of life makes the difference, with its values, social market economy, creative capacities and political stability, but also with its industries, research capacities, educational systems and consumer power.

The European way of life will shape the digital age

Innovation has always been at the core of European DNA: we need Europeans to dream again of a Europe that drives innovation in the world. The prosperity of our European societies as well our social security in the future depends largely on innovation.

Europe has to regain its appetite for innovation: we have millions of start-ups, SMEs, industries, young entrepreneurs, researchers and students ready to play a role, if we set the right conditions and incentives for them to develop and to stay in Europe.

Europe can create the right innovative environment, one driven by our values and not ruled by tech giants or authoritarians powers, because the European way is balanced. And because the European way is also fair, we have to close the gap among advanced regions and those catching up.

Europe listens to and responds to the fears and concerns of citizens: innovation is not just about business. Politics has a responsibility to set the right conditions for societies to embrace innovation, but it also has to anticipate and counterbalance its impact on citizens and societies.

We have to shape a Europe-wide Innovation Union that (1) improves citizens’ daily lives, (2) prepares our citizens, our industries and our academics for the next digital wave, (3) guarantees that everybody has access to digital opportunities for their own lives, (4) benefits from ambitious financing.

(1) We believe innovation can improve our citizens’ daily lives

  • Boosting innovation requires regaining citizens’ trust in a safe cyberspace:
    • Creating new EU cybersecurity research centres;
    • Ensuring a constant update of strong standards for securing critical infrastructure (power plants, water plants) through revision of the Network and Information Security Directive (NIS);
    • Creating an EU cyberbrigade to show we are equipped to defend ourselves based on our knowhow.
  • Boosting innovation means a new offensive in leading sectors to build a data-driven economy and create the next “airbus”:
    • For health (e.g. projects curing cancer/Alzheimers) - gaining the initiative on Artificial Intelligence and machine learning (new EU “labs”), personalised healthcare through big data applications with all the appropriate data security safeguards;
    • For mobility - cooperative intelligent transport systems (C-ITS) with intelligent roads and improved inter-modality and connectivity, semi-autonomous and autonomous driving, an increased level of electric vehicles and other low-emission alternatives such as fuel cells;
    • For housing - digital architecture to reduce the costs of construction, connected houses to save energy, urban planning to regulate traffic and anticipate neighbourhood development, promoting the concept of smart cities and smart villages;
    • For space strategy - early warning of natural disasters; satellite mapping of global droughts, soil quality and land use change; rescue operations; mapping wildfires; car navigation; border controls; communication;
    • For energy: using clean energy technologies to achieve the climate and energy goals, e.g. innovative green biogas from manure processing.
  • Boosting innovation also means revitalising sectors that are key to our quality of life:
    • For agricultural production: use of robotics, precision technology and mapping technology to limit the use of pesticides; big data to monitor and identify animal diseases, fertiliser use and plant deficiencies; rolling-out of broadband internet access in rural areas, innovative manure processing to produce high-quality mineral concentrates as a sustainable replacement to mineral fertilizers;
    • For better working conditions: teleworking, job mobility;
    • For smart access to services from home: telemedicine, e-health;
    • For increased opportunities for citizens with disabilities to access the job market and participate in society.
  • Boosting innovation means better protection of our European cultural diversity and creative identity:
    • Pushing for a European “Netflix”;
    • Creating a European Digital Library;
    • Investing in Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs) in Europe and unleashing the unrecognised potential of digitalisation in the CCIs.

(2) We want to get Europe ready for the next innovation wave

  • Setting the right framework - because we are a 500 million-consumer market, we can impose our rules, our values and our standards:
    • Deepening the Digital Single Market to end fragmentation and to create the highest-scale market;
    • A European Open Data Platform and an unlimited EU-wide free flow of data for large companies and start-ups;
    • A European Open Science Cloud and Data Platform;
    • Data privacy and security to build trust in the digital ecosystem;
    • Digitalisation offensive for SMEs;
    • Improving access to financial markets for smart investments;
    • Facilitating the transition from the lab to the market - all too often innovations are made but can’t be sold;
    • Promoting the European Capital of Innovation and the European Women Innovator Prizes;
    • Promoting the StartUp Europe Awards in innovation.
  • Guaranteeing access to technology and providing the right infrastructure will be key to ensuring EU cohesion:
    • Europe must seize “internet of things”, big data, blockchain and application of software opportunities;
    • Renewing and upgrading Horizon 2020 based on new rules and the value of ideas, to create a simple and fair process;
    • Member States must meet their target of 3% of GDP for research and innovation;
    • For cohesion policy post-2020, the smart specialisation methodology should become the default model;
    • An Investment plan 4.0 (follow up to the Juncker Plan);
    • Development of and access to Human Language Technologies enabling a Multilingual Digital Single Market;
    • Wifi4EU, high-speed broadband networks, spectrum identification, quantum technology development and 5G;
    • Super computers and e-Infrastructure in every region (e.g. data mining);
    • Establishing a European start-up network - ‘Erasmus 4.0’;
    • Encouraging the continuation and wider application of smart specialisation (e.g. Vanguard Initiative) for regions and continuing the European Innovation Partnerships on Smart Cities and Communities.
  • Matching the right skills with the right opportunities - attracting back our TALENT:
    • Digital learning and literacy from an early age to university, including for any vocational training;
    • Setting up of “digital summer camps” sponsored by companies;
    • European University for innovation; strengthening networks of young innovators and entrepreneurs, e.g. through EIT knowledge and innovation communities;
    • Coordination of joint master and post-doc research programmes, digital post-degree Erasmus;
    • Internet Think Tank (‘EUI 4.0’):
    • European Knowledge and Innovation Academy - digital competence research platforms;
    • Stimulating ‘Citizen Science’;
    • Integration of technology into training of young farmers in order to push innovation forward.
  • Creating a digital social market economy:
    • Innovation also offers new job opportunities - we need to encourage new business models that create new jobs while preserving social standards in the digital economy;
    • Fair trade agreements for protecting our workers from unfair dumping;
    • Professional life-long training to better adjust people’s skills to changes in the labour market;
    • Developing new working condition models that improve work-life balance in the digital age;
    • New framework for digital platforms ensuring that unfair commercial practices banned in the analogue world are also banned in the digital age.

(3) We want every citizen to be part of the Innovation Union

  • Participatory e-democracy (consultations, participation in decision-making processes, etc.);
  • Digital voting for the European elections (test phase in 2019);
  • Paper-free administration (Estonian model);
  • Reducing red tape by 30% by simplifying the procedures and eliminating regulations that can be replaced by virtual simulation;
  • Communicating the added-value of EU projects (e.g. “Let the Stars Shine”).

(4) We want our ambitions to be reflected financially

  • Innovation must be among our top priorities in the next MFF (post-2020) and must be a key element in its mid-term evaluation, including the results for FP9 and the future ESIF funds:
    • 120 billion euro should be dedicated to research and innovation from FP9, supported by 46 million euro from the thematic concentration programming in cohesion policy;
    • The rules and procedures to access EU funding should be simplified and we should be innovative in the implementation of the budget to avoid bureaucracy;
    • Synergies between funds for research and innovation, structural funds, EFSI and other financial instruments should be created.
  • We should prioritise our financial support, giving it to the best projects with real European added value and that cannot be handled at national or regional level.
  • Rules on EU structural funds should allow for greater inter-regional cooperation on innovation.
  • Funding programmes and the different instruments should be aligned to overcome the “Valley of Death”.
  • Tech Giants must contribute to this innovation wave through paying a new tax to access the EU Digital Single Market.
  • The private sector should sponsor projects with a socially-responsible impact, such as digital camps, digital life-long learning, digital literacy, digital integration etc.
  • Access to venture capital and to loans should be facilitated for start-ups and SMEs.