Most European citizens are fond of ‘Europe’: its values, culture and social model. When it comes to its leadership, citizens have more mixed feelings. 60% of citizens tend not to trust the EU institutions. They feel that European policy is disconnected from their daily reality.
As a tech entrepreneur who is active in big data, I too feel disconnected – in my case, from the digital agenda of the European Commission. The agenda and its priorities do not align with the tremendous potential of the digital revolution, something I have the immense privilege to experience every day.
From fighting Ebola to alleviating poverty – I am a member of a community of shapers who use technology to improve society. Every day I encounter yet more amazing digital visionaries who create robots, build networks and develop apps that affect every facet of our lives. From citizen to state to Union, we are witnessing the acceleration of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
“Ambition matters. It sets leaders apart. It allows them to inspire people through their vision of society, and to drive change”
But what are we doing about this revolution? At the EU level, we can summarise the strategy in three words: defragmentation, standards and infrastructure. All important, all relevant, but nothing near the level of ambition required.
And ambition matters. It sets leaders apart. It allows them to inspire people through their vision of society, and to drive change.
I would fight for an EU with ambitions to use digital to save the planet, or to connect citizens to their cities, or to give everyone meaning in their lives, whether through a job, a task or simply helping their peers.
In the absence of political ambition, tech entrepreneurs will set their own. But is this the road we want to take? Do policymakers want to shape the agenda or only to react?
The time has come to be ambitious. We need leaders who are willing to take up that role.
My call for a greater digital ambition comes from my entrepreneurial background. Without naming the problem you cannot correctly design a solution, but instead of simply pointing the finger at EU leaders I have three simple initiatives that could put Europe back on the global digital map.
The first solution is for the European Commission to practice what it preaches – or ‘eat its own dog food’. Is the Commission itself digital? How much paper does it produce? How much big data does it use to improve its effectiveness? How often do its politicians and officials use Amazon, Uber or Spotify?
These questions boil down to a simple task: show us that you are role models; show us that you are the champions of this revolution. I’m tired of naming American or Chinese companies as the most digital organisations. I want to name you. You can get there.
“It is time to bring back our digital visionaries. With these experts Europe can bridge the digital gap within a decade”
Second, make policies based on what people do, not on what people say. At some point in history, EU policymakers surely had reason to design a law requiring internet users to accept cookies before browsing. In 2016, I don’t get the point. Do you know a single person who refuses the cookie and declines to browse a website? Policymakers should observe our behaviour and test policies before making laws.
Third, bringing back our visionaries. Most of Europe’s most brilliant and disruptive minds have left Europe to go to the United States. It is time to find a way to bring them back. With these experts, and with their networks and ambitions, Europe can bridge the digital gap within a decade.
I’m aware that I’m biased: entrepreneurs see the world as an ocean of opportunities. Digital frontrunners believe in the positive nature of technology.
I know I am not paying attention to certain constraints. I know I don’t have the full context. And I’m not a politician. But I’m a believer in Europe, in the value of statesmanship, and in the immense potential of our citizens.
I will act to shape this European ambition. Will you join me?
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