MEP on connected car fight: Commission should focus on safety standards, not technology

MEP Deirdre Clune criticised the European Commission's plans to legislate later this year on what technology should be used to power connected cars. "We need to have an open market," she said. [European Parliament]

This article is part of our special report What’s driving Europe’s strategy on connected cars?.

The European Commission wants future connected vehicles to be able to run both on 5G and Wifi networks, claiming its upcoming legal proposal will remain “technology neutral”. But a leading lawmaker warns this will in effect give preference to one technology over another.

Deirdre Clune is an Irish centre-right MEP in the European Parliament’s Transport Committee. She spoke to EURACTIV in an interview.

The European Commission is going to make a decision later this year on what technology – Wifi or 5G – it will support to help connected vehicles communicate with each other. What’s at stake in that decision?

If the law makes it impossible, or unnecessarily burdensome, for an emerging technology to enter the market, then that law in itself brings into question the principles of fair competition.

The law should not give preference to one technology over another, which is what is meant by remaining ‘technology neutral’. Aside from being principally questionable, we need to bear in mind that this is also not just any market, but a market of safety.

The legislation should create a framework in that vein. It should demand a certain level of safety requirements be met, not technological requirements. Only then can we allow all competitors on the market prove that their technology can best suit the safety requirements outlined by the Commission, not the other way around.

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Do you have a preference for what technology would be better for improving the quality of connected vehicles or making sure they are available to consumers sooner?

No, the competing technologies are not yet fully developed or tested enough to be preferred, which is exactly why the Commission should stay technology neutral.

You asked the Commission in May how it plans to remain technologically neutral and keep a “level playing field” with its proposal. What does that mean and what kind of companies or industries does the market for connected vehicles need to be open to?

The Commission can remain technologically neutral by bringing forth a proposal that does not inherently favour the use of one technology over another in an emerging market. The market needs to be open to anybody who is active in the supply chain, be that chip-set builders, telecommunication infrastructure providers or car manufacturers.

The priorities of the Commission should be those safety standards it believes need be met, and to allow the market to produce the technology that can best achieve those standards, while remaining competitively priced.

What criteria should the Commission consider when deciding what technology to favour? Do you see indications that there are differences between these technologies regarding their cost or safety benefits?

Well this is why we need to have an open market, so that the products can have the space to prove their cost and safety benefits. That is how competition works.

By creating a framework whereby one technology can thrive and others cannot, we block any potential progress of the other technologies. No developer is going to try to exist in a market where the law creates so many barriers to entry.

Should the delegated act proposal require car manufacturers to build vehicles that are interoperable and can work with both 5G and Wifi technologies? Could that potentially be too complicated or expensive for companies?

Imposing interoperability on the market warrants the same response as imposing one single technology: it stifles competition. When you constrain the market and force it to comply with technological requirements, you’re still changing the dynamics of competition.

If the Commission’s proposal does not create any technological barriers or obligations, we would not need to worry about making these technologies function alongside each other; the most effective and cost-saving technology would eventually take over the market.

The Commission’s job is to focus on the safety standards it wants met, not the technological standards.

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