Against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the Schuman declaration, we publish a series on the EU’s future. Our Young Professionals Advisors reflect on the current state of the EU and propose a way forward to overcome the crisis. Read their view on how the EU should manoeuvre through the upcoming economic crisis.
DIGITALISATION & AI
While large parts of the economy are suffering from shop closures and the restriction of public life, technology giants are widely benefiting. The (self) imposed contact restrictions are fueling their business model. On Wall Street, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet and Facebook are all on an upward trend since COVID-19. This group now accounts for just over 20 per cent of the S&P 500 and it does not look as if this trend will reverse in the long-term. The current crisis and the lockdown measures have made digitalisation a priority. It seems that the wide-spread acceptance of novel technologies has now arrived a lot faster than it would have without the crisis.
In order to bring the benefits of digitalisation to its citizens, the EU must define a strong and innovative but also regulated digital economy with accountability and ethics as a strategic aim. As a priority, the EU should focus on achieving a Digital Single Market by harmonising regulation within member states. This way the EU can become a competitive counterpart to the US and China. These countries are currently dominating the race for the digital future.
The EU needs to have a strong foundation to connect people, businesses and governments. Therefore, the creation and maintenance of a truly digital infrastructure across the EU and its neighbourhood are key. Digitalisation has not progressed at the same pace in EU member states. We see this as an opportunity to share knowledge and experiences and to learn from countries that have advanced greatly, like the Baltic states. The EU could act as an intermediary and coordinating force and support the establishment of a broad network that connects digital experts from all member states’ governments. The network then invites its members to exchange experiences and best practices in order to jointly support digitalisation in the EU.
5G network technology is a cornerstone of such a connectivity initiative. Huawei, a Chinese supplier, aims to widely implement its network infrastructure within the EU. Given the strategic importance of such infrastructure, the influence of the Chinese government on Huawei and, as a result, the security of European data transmitted through Huawei’s components is critically discussed. While member states tend to answer this question on a national level, we think that the situation requires a joint European perspective. The EU needs to decide clearly whether Chinese technology is considered as an option since this decision has a long-term impact. Otherwise, fragmented solutions across the continent put the data integrity of the entire community at risk.
Regardless of what the solution will look like, digitally connected citizens in the EU will unleash the great strength of the Single Market: Labour mobility. As we get used to working from home and live in an increasingly output-driven working world, office and headquarters locations become less important. Working in the digital sphere blurs national borders. Ironically, Europeans can become more closely connected by sitting at home. This represents a unique opportunity to establish pan-European companies that source skills and expertise from all over the EU. Only such large-scale initiatives will be able to formulate a European answer to big tech companies from the US and China.
Made in EU: Artificial Intelligence initiatives and data-driven innovation
We advocate for the creation of common EU data repositories. Combining the data stock of the largest Single Market in the world will provide a powerful basis for EU-wide Artificial Intelligence (AI) initiatives and data-driven innovation. Data is the oil of the 21st century, a precious commodity driving exponential growth of some of the biggest multinational corporations. In order for European companies to benefit from it, takes an effort that responsibly combines the data stock of all member states.
At the same time, the EU needs to design legislation for the responsible usage of such data pools. The EU is leading in the field of data protection and will have to controversially discuss the trade-off between innovation and privacy. However, strong data protection must not necessarily contradict an innovative digital economy. Between China and the US, the EU has to find a European way of setting a new frame for ground-breaking innovations. In the current crisis, the importance of AI has gained even stronger attention. Integration of AI-driven diagnostics and experimentation into pharmaceutics and health care can save lives and enhance our understanding and treatment of new and existing diseases. It is crucial that the EU does not miss these opportunities by relying disproportionally on foreign suppliers for critical services.
Fake News: The modern enemy of democracy
The Coronavirus pandemic has shed light on this notoriously challenging aspect of digitalisation. A few technology companies shape almost the entire digital information ecosystem. Their social media platforms have a significant influence on how societies behave. Purposeful misinformation poses a threat to the stability of our democracies. The EU must make clear that platform providers are accountable for information shared through their networks. When asking how content from millions of users can be examined, intelligent algorithms can be an answer. AI can help cut through the mass of content that is shared on social media to filter out posts that might be misleading, denunciating or inappropriate. Deleting such posts is vital to maintaining a digital sphere that is governed by ethical, democratic values. Still, the EU should carefully assess if these methods adequately consider freedom of speech. Enacting legislation on this issue is an opportunity for the EU to shape global rules on how democracies deal with new challenges in the digital sphere. It is high time to restore the balance between public and private interests.
We have no future without digitalisation
The EU should now make an effort to become a centre of digital innovation and connectivity. Therefore, developing digital infrastructure across the EU and its neighbourhood is vital. Moreover, creating common data depositories that appropriately consider data protection, will provide a powerful basis for digital innovation within the EU. Lastly, the EU should provide the legal framework for AI-based governance on social media. With these actions, the EU can advance to a leader in the field of digitalisation and will find an adequate stand between China and the US. The current crisis has demonstrated that digitalisation is indispensable for a resilient, future-proof economy.
Authors: Albert Guasch, Kalina Trendafilova, Dyria Alloussi, Raiko Puustusma, Dinand Drankier, Justinas Lingevicius, Mihkel Kaevats, Karl Luis Neumann, Silja Raunio, Anna Penninger, Armando Guçe, Mihály Szabó, Andranik Hovhannisyan, Raphael Kohler, Jens-Daniel Florian, Elif Dilmen, Eshgin Tanriverdi, Robert Grecu.
About the YPAs: We are a group of 36 United Europe Alumni from 20 countries. We consider ourselves a task force for United Europe promoting young leadership from various regions in Europe. We represent diverse and young European voices on the EU’s most pressing issues. We aim to restore trust in the European project among the youth and citizens of Europe. We are a network that promotes professional exchange between young Europeans and gives impulses for a more European way of thinking. We promote plurality and want to generate new ideas for smart analysis of EU policies.