The Finnish EU presidency should push for a ‘fast lane’ for tech and AI

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

Boasting one of Europe’s most liberal and innovative economies, Finland's EU presidency has the chance to push for a ‘fast lane’ for tech and AI in Europe, and show Europe a way forward in the age of AI, writes Christian Walther Øyrabø. [ND3000/Shutterstock]

Boasting one of Europe’s most liberal and innovative economies, Finland’s EU presidency has the chance to push for a ‘fast lane’ for tech and AI in Europe, and show Europe a way forward in the age of AI, writes Christian Walther Øyrabø.

Christian Walther Øyrabø is a member of the ‘Industry Group for a Successful Finnish Presidency’, chairman of Autovice and former chairman of the Danish Entrepreneurs Association

It is an open secret that despite the strengths of its large internal market, the EU moves slowly on policy. This must change. Good tech policy is good growth policy, and Europe should embrace the opportunities of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data for the good of the economy and society alike.

Entrepreneurs and startups need a louder voice in Europe. That is why I have joined a new working group of businesses and policymakers from the Digital 9 nations, Europe’s most liberal and innovative economies: Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Ireland, and the UK.

Our coalition includes startup founders, Europe’s new tech unicorns, and national and international associations.

The EU does not need another group setting up round-table discussions and writing reports. It needs practical solutions and successful evidence. This is why our coalition intends to use these nations to create a ‘fast lane’ for tech and AI in the EU, and show the road for the rest of the union to follow.

With a D9 nation – Finland – assuming the EU presidency, it offers a symbolic and political event around which the EU can think positively once again about tech and digital.

There is a global race to innovate and invest in tech, and Europe is falling behind China and the USA. New research by the Adam Smith Institute in London has shown that large companies are ten times as likely to grow in the United States than Europe.

While Europe may not be able to match its rivals on the scale of investment, it has considerable strengths in the flexible economies of the D9.

Some of Europe’s recent policies, like GDPR, have been criticised for harming innovation and harming small businesses. This group aims to reset Europe’s tech policy at an important juncture. The UK has gone awol from the European stage, and liberal voices are sorely needed. This is an important moment for the forward-thinking D9 nations.

The EU still has to deal with Brexit, and a raft of new populist MEPs have been elected to the European Parliament. Meanwhile, what plans Europe does have for the tech policy are alarming many in the industry: focusing on the ethical regulation of AI and how to tax the digital industries misses the huge prize they offer.

The threats are not coming from the EU alone. National elections in Europe are returning governments sceptical about tech and AI, creating a risk that governments will take steps which will hit growth and prosperity.

This is especially true in my homeland Denmark, where the new government is turning its back on innovation and entrepreneurs at the worst possible time. This group is recruiting motivated members in its nine constituent nations to support pro-growth, pro-innovation tech policies.

The Finnish Presidency offers us a symbolic opportunity to drive a positive agenda in a number of key areas.

First, the Single Market needs completing, and it needs to be fully digitised. Digital technology will be most effective when it is applied to the whole economy, and the Single Market cannot function without digital technology.

A digitised Single Market will allow the free flow of innovation and ideas around Europe, and revolutionise the 21st-century economy, as the Single Market revolutionised the European economy at the end of the 20th.

Second, the public sector must lead by example on innovation and AI. The public sector accounts for nearly half of Europe’s buying power, and it can provide Europe’s digital ecosystems with the support they need.

The public sector should embrace open data principles, to encourage innovation in public services, and significantly lower the barriers to entry for start-ups and scale-ups who want to compete for public contracts. If there is any area on which the D9 nations can lead, it is this.

Last, regulations should be smart, but simple. In particular, an AI/innovation check should be used to consider how Europe’s big regulation – like GDPR and the forthcoming ethical guidelines on AI – affect startups and SMEs. The D9 should provide a voice for those start-ups, and show that by limiting the burdens on start-ups and scale-ups, Europe’s whole economy will thrive as a result.

By moving forward with policies such as these, the Finnish Presidency has the opportunity to ensure the D9 nations can become a ‘fast lane’ for tech and AI in Europe, and show Europe a way forward in the age of AI.

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