In Europe, we have to be ‘paranoid optimists’!

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Promoted content

Willem Jonker

Willem Jonker.

This article is part of our special report Mapping Europe’s tech landscape.

What if Europe was the best place in the world for digital innovation? When it comes to Europe’s position on the global digital market, some might say we are better at regulating and planning than delivering, but we are catching up and this positive development has already been going on for about a decade, writes Willem Jonker.

Willem Jonker is the CEO of EIT Digital, a leading European digital innovation and entrepreneurial education organisation driving Europe’s digital transformation.

Looking back 30 years ago, Europe was a dominant player in digital technology, with Nokia ruling the mobile world, a strong position in high-performance computing and a respectable number of computing manufacturers.

Unfortunately, Europe had to learn the hard way what it takes to remain competitive on the digital market, because today the situation is completely different. The mobile world is dominated by the US and Asia, there are hardly any computer manufacturers left in Europe, and the entire social media and platform development slipped from us, even though we were early adopters.

Most European countries had their own local Facebook, like Minitel in France or StudiVZ in Germany. But over the years we lost ground and others passed, and now we must catch up. At the turn of the century, we were all obsessed and distracted by the looming Millennium Bug.

However, Armageddon didn’t come, but what did was the internet and eventually mobile internet. Remember, the iPhone only came in 2007, yet today we can’t believe this only happened a good 10 years ago. Europe missed out on most of these developments, not as a consumer, but as an actor, as a producer.

On the consumer market, we have seen the importance of data platforms and social media platforms evolve. But sooner rather than later, these platforms will also invade industry, they will invade healthcare, they will invade finance.

Having learnt its lessons from the past, Europe must act now if it doesn’t want to lag behind once more. We should and can be very proud of GDPR and the level of privacy protection we appreciate in Europe. Restrictions, however, do not bring you the Googles, Facebooks and Apples in Europe. It’s not enough to have a Digital Agenda for Europe; we also need a digital economy!

Quoting the chairman of the board of Nokia, who used this term in his book on the company’s transformation, I believe we must become “paranoid optimists”. We should be well aware of what is going on, but not at the same time end up with a list of “Yes, buts”; instead we must work on a list of “How to get theres.”

For the time being, however, there are few areas where I see Europe evolving quickly. And this is where we come into the play.

EIT Digital is the best delivering machine in Europe when it comes to digital innovations,  skills development, support for entrepreneurs and connecting the diverse European ecosystems. Our virtual ecosystem has enough power to breed companies that can compete at a global level with their Asian and American counterparts.

But we also have a clear vision for a strong Digital Europe. Our mission has shaped us into an early detection system that identifies areas of strategic importance for preserving European competitiveness in the digital world. This knowledge lays the ground for our advice on the measures needed to keep Europe at the forefront of digital innovation.

EIT Digital’s mission is not only to give advice on how to deliver but to be the catalyser of successful digital transformation in Europe. We are a deep tech organization that ‘walks the talk’, combining technological understanding with entrepreneurial experience and mindset. Europe is still ahead of the technology curve.

Now is the time to scale up this potential to create successful economic players and globally competitive products.


You can meet Willem Jonker and other inspiring speakers from the European world of digital innovation, policymaking and entrepreneurial education on Tuesday, September 10, at EIT Digital’s annual conference 2019 – ‘For a Strong Digital Europe’.  More than 1,000 digital experts & opinion leaders will gather at The Egg in Brussels to get the latest on Europe’s digital future and discover opportunities to grow their digital business. More than 50 ground-breaking digital deep tech innovations and live demos will be on display and participants will be able to expand their professional network in more than 500 matchmaking sessions.

Subscribe to our newsletters