EIT Digital boss: Europe needs ‘global mentality’ in innovation

Willem Jonker [EIT]

Europe lacks a “global mentality” when it comes to innovation in the digital technology sector, Director of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT Digital) Willem Jonker told EURACTIV Spain.

Jonker, in Madrid to attend the opening of EIT Digital’s Spanish HQ, said that “although there are many good ideas, we still think too much at a local level”.

To combat this, he insists perspectives have to be broadened in order to “take an active role in and benefit from the digital transformation, which is already happening, right now”.

The Dutchman believes that this digital change is the equal of any social one and he warned that attention will be needed to promote an “inclusive” transition in order to help “the parts of society that are struggling to handle it”.

Any changes have positive and negative consequences, Jonker highlighted, and he noted that technological advances are causing a loss of traditional jobs. He insisted that “we have a responsibility to help people adapt to new positions (that will be created in the future) if we want the transition to be positive”.

Navracsics: EIT must be ‘more visible, more transparent and more compact’

The beginnings of the European Institute of Technology (EIT), created in 2008, were “probably a little bit slow and complicated,” admits Tibor Navracsics, the Commissioner overseeing the EU’s flagship innovation agency. But things should be back on track soon, he told EURACTIV.

EIT Digital works in a number of areas toward this end, including industry, cities, welfare, finance and infrastructure, by offering graduate students and professionals the chance to continue learning.

Although it has been present in Spain since 2013, it has now decided to up its involvement with a dedicated team set up in the country.

Since 1 January, the new Madrid HQ is on equal footing with the seven centres already operating in Berlin, Eindhoven, Helsinki, London, Paris, Stockholm and Trento. In 2017, it plans to invest €15 million in innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as in education and business.

“We are trying to create an environment here with many employment opportunities for young people, so that well-educated people stay in Spain or it even attracts people from other countries,” Jonker explained.

EIT chief: 'You don't build Silicon Valley overnight'

As the Commission unveiled a new set of measures to support startups in Europe on Tuesday (22 November), Martin Kern, interim director of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), warned that building the “right ecosystem” will not happen overnight.

The new Spanish centre also wants to support and accelerate the growth of emerging technology companies, so that they expand to a level similar to their counterparts in countries like Finland or Sweden.

Jonker said that digital innovation allows a “better balance”, adding that “digital infrastructure goes hand-in-hand with economic strength”.

He concluded that “digital technology can be very beneficial” but that it is only by working together “that problems will be solved”.

EIT is part of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, the bloc’s framework for research and innovation.