Czech MEP: Europe needs harmonised standards for smart cities

According to Dita Charanzová, smart cities are about bettering the lives of Europe’s citizens. They’ll not only improve urban life but the environment too, she told Euractiv.com

Dita Charanzová is a Czech ANO 2011 MEP (ALDE) and vice-chair of the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee.

Charanzová spoke to Euractiv on the sidelines of an event in the European Parliament on transport, as part of the Think Digital series on smart cities.

Do you think EU policy can actually do much to make Europeans cities smarter?

Definitely. I believe that there is a lot we can do together in this respect. First of all, we have to always exchange best practices because we see some cities are more advanced than others. There are differences between member states but also within member states. And we have to see how Europe can motivate investment in smart cities more.

And, of course, for me as a legislator, the key is how we can make the EU one level playing field for all companies. We heard today that you really have to act towards EU harmonised standards, that if we have self-driving vehicles fully functioning in one member state that we make sure the car can cross borders and is not kept from connecting at borders.

This is definitely a case where we need to act collectively.

Do you think city governments will really even want to be told by EU institutions that they should modernise their infrastructure and transport systems?

In the end, it’s in their interest. So far I can see only good examples where people realised that technology is moving forward, that citizens want that.

We all live this digital revolution, we all see people with smartphones. So if we can have smart cars and smart cities, I don’t see any politician who should say no to it. It will change the way we are used to living nowadays, but I think we must all embrace this digital revolution and all the benefits that we have at our hands.

I’m sure at the end we will see that when it comes to connected and self-driving cars, we will have a solution that is safer, cheaper and better for the environment. I don’t see a reason to say no to this progress.

You’re from Prague. What kind of smart city developments would you want to see there?

Prague is currently working on becoming a smart city. It will not happen overnight but we’re trying to learn from the success of cities abroad, especially when it comes to parking systems, which is always a key issue in cities, and also how to better manage traffic in cities. There is an ongoing discussion within different political parties on how to deliver on it but there is a general interest in changing the city of Prague into a smart Prague city.

Prague has a lot of very old buildings and streets. Is that more of a challenge or more expensive to build sensors and other smart technology into centuries-old buildings and streets?

I think it’s more about people who live in the city. Of course, it’s a beautiful, historic town but you have a new, young generation that lives in Prague.

When it comes to digital, you have a lot of successful digital companies coming from the Czech Republic, so I would say Czechs think digital. And that’s slowly but surely being reflected in the policy of the city.

I think you can have both, you can try to preserve the historic landscape of the city while embracing new technologies. I don’t think they contradict each other.

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Someone from the European Commission and from Daimler said today that we need to make sure cities in India and in other countries outside Europe don’t get ahead of us in developing smart city technology. Is the whole smart city idea more about practical things like saving money on energy and making traffic safer – or is it about innovating and making sure European tech companies and cities stay ahead?

Above all, I’d say it’s about making the lives of citizens better and easier. And this is what the whole concept of smart cities is about in the end. It’s about us, people living in cities.

Of course, the system of smart cities will not only improve my way of living in the city but also will help the environment and be safer and cleaner. I’d say it’s sharing the cake.

I don’t think it’s really about competition between Europe vis-a-vis the others, but of course, we don’t want to lag behind. We know from the industry that the technology is ready, it’s just about making it happen. And that we create the right infrastructure, the right regulatory environment, that we motivate industry to invest even more in new technologies.

This is the way we can compete, but the main goal is not to compete. The main goal is to have better living conditions for people in cities.

How do you see traffic management and smart cars in cities changing the way public transport systems work?

The biggest problems in big cities are traffic, pollution and the fact that we don’t use our cars 100% of the day. It’s about how we can economise, how we can use cars in a more efficient way.

These are all relevant questions and we’re trying to address them, for example through the sharing economy. I personally think this will be one of the options that we will follow: we will share more and more in public transport.

The second thing is: how will we have smart mobility in cities? One is the sharing concept, the other is smart cars and autonomous cars. But those can be connected with the sharing principle. I think this altogether will lead to a new mobility system.

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Talking about smart cars in cities and the sharing economy, do you think the goal should be to ultimately have fewer cars, to encourage people to use the cars they already own more efficiently or to have even more cars in cities?

I don’t want to impose anything but we see now that the trend for the future is that not everybody will have a car. It’s not a question of whether people will be able to buy a car.

The question is: would it be more beneficial for me to share a car or to use other modes of transport? The idea from a few years ago that a car is kind of like jewellery might not be relevant in the near future. We see now that the car is the way I get from point A to point B. And if I realise that in order to do so, I can share the car with someone or combine it with other possibilities in the smart city, then it would be more beneficial for people. We just want to address the issues that people are concerned with today.

With this new technology coming into public places in cities where people take the metro and live their normal daily lives, do you think we’ll see a completely new dimension of data protection issues being opened up?

There are many key issues linked to smart cities, to connectivity, which is the question of data, data protection and privacy. This is still a very sensitive issue for Europe. We are different in this respect from other countries. And we must make sure that it’s well reflected possibly in new legislation.

We already have rules on data protection and cybersecurity. We have to see if we should perhaps strengthen those because of the fact that we’ll have more connected features, we’ll have the Internet of Things. And we hear more and more often from people who say, “What is happening with my data? I don’t want to have big brother watching me all the time.” We must make sure that people trust the system and that there is a way for them to disconnect.

Strengthening data protection could mean new legislation for connected and smart devices?

We have to see. At the moment we’ve just adopted new rules for data protection, but the more we speak about the Internet of Things, robots and connected cars, then we see that there might be more issues that need to be better reflected in legislation.

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This article is part of the policy topic coverage on Think Digital – smart cities