To rekindle Europe’s competitiveness we must embrace technology and build on our values

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

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What is most needed is a paradigm shift in terms of industrial policy that can sustain investment in infrastructure and services. [Gerasimov_foto_174/Shutterstock]

New technologies are disrupting our lives. Citizens, businesses, governments: no one is being spared by the ongoing developments in Artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things, ecommerce, or cybersecurity. However, this digital tide does not have to be passively accepted. On the contrary: it needs to be governed and shaped into the driver for change we want it to be.

Stéphane Richard is the Chairman and CEO of Orange.

Digitalisation is a great opportunity to bring sustainable growth and development to the EU. We have to ensure Europe plays an active role in this transformation; that it does not merely rely on technology and services from abroad, but builds up a strong and attractive digital sovereignty and leadership. What is most needed is a paradigm shift in terms of industrial policy that can sustain investment in infrastructure and services. I firmly believe this is the right strategy for preserving our European values.

We need to think creatively and act strategically.

The key building blocks of a new European industrial strategy

A successful digitalisation will require several building blocks interacting with one another. First, the EU needs cutting-edge infrastructure: the deployment of secure and very high capacity networks, be it fibre or 5G based, are instrumental for the future of Europe. With 35 million Fibre-to-the-Home connectable households in the EU, mainly in France, Spain and Poland, Orange is a leader in both coverage and customer base. However, it is obvious that more has to be done collectively to deliver the Gigabit Society we aspire to. Policy-makers should thus further support companies’ investments, especially when implementing the EU electronic communications framework or designing spectrum auctions.

Modern democracies need to ensure connectivity for all, while safeguarding citizens and businesses from the threats posed by malicious activities online or foreign interferences. Another building block therefore lies in cybersecurity; it is critical to both our economy and democracy. Based on our expertise as a trusted operator, relying on a global network of security resources as well as on our Orange Cyberdefense unit, we are ready to continue working to identify ways to strengthen our European cybersecurity. While Member States remain responsible for national security matters, it is paramount to avoid a fragmented approach for market players and we welcome the recent EU initiatives on this matter such as the Cybersecurity Act. We also ought to ensure that we all, public entities, businesses, and citizens, improve our cybersecurity awareness, skills and resilience.

Our economy is becoming data centric. Europe cannot afford to only be a consumer of services, mainly developed from abroad. The EU can and should become a global player and contributor to this new era, thereby strengthening its competitiveness worldwide. Europe needs to develop the right conditions to become the best place to invest, start a company and pursue ideas and projects that spur growth and deliver prosperity for all. Thus, we need the right incentives, such as avoiding any premature regulation on innovation, or allowing enhanced cooperation between companies within and across sectors. This is essential for new developments such as AI, where the EU invests one sixth and one third, respectively, of what the US and Asia currently earmark.

Finally, the EU has a strong history of R&D based on essential principles to be promoted around the world, namely standardisation and open innovation. We also have to improve the ways in which we link research outcomes to actual market innovation. The Commission’s proposal to boost R&D and subsequent implementation, through its Digital Europe and Horizon Europe programmes, is a welcome development.

Relying on our values

Our values are one of our greatest assets. They include protecting content communication and setting up a human-centric approach to the digital revolution, one which shows the world how to reap the fruits of technological innovation while delivering on citizens’ needs and ensuring societal inclusiveness. By protecting while innovating, the EU can take advantage of both its political and economic strength to set regulatory standards for other countries around the world, as shown with the GDPR.

In addition, the European Union has persistently been at the forefront of the global fight against climate change. This is strongly welcome, and we need to be even more ambitious. Digitalisation can make a positive contribution by facilitating the ongoing ecological and energy transition to a more sustainable society. Smart cities, where urban planning and mobility are optimised, smart grids and home automation can all contribute to making energy consumption more efficient and reduce CO2 emissions.

But digitalisation has to come together with corrective actions to reduce the impact of the digital sector on greenhouse gas emissions and critical resources. Orange is fully committed to such a goal. We have notably been implementing circular economy principles to our Group’s processes, as well as developing innovative solutions to reduce our carbon footprint. The data centers we are building in Europe, for instance, use a specific cooling technology that substantially reduces energy consumption. Fighting climate change is a mission we are all called to pursue in our daily lives – citizens, businesses and policy-makers, together. Orange stands ready to support the European institutions in this effort.

To learn more about Orange’s comprehensive EuropeInside vision, visit Orange in Brussels.

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