The Digital Single Market strategy is a step in the right direction but the Commission must speed up its implementation, says Brian Ager, secretary-general of the European Roundtable of Industrialists.
The Digital Post: What is your general opinion about the Digital Single Market Strategy?
Brian Ager: We thought that it was an important first step to get everybody behind a common approach, and I believe it was a good move. I think it’s important to get an orientation, to get it out there and see what the reactions are.
TDP: Do you think this strategy is enough business-friendly? Can it provide a sufficient conducive investment climate that will help Europe catch up with other markets in the digital sector?
BA: Only time will tell. To be fair, a few legislative proposals have been already presented. But for the rest, the Strategy is only a piece of paper that in itself is worthless: it’s what flows from that that will matter. It is now important that the Strategy is translated into a series of policy measures that are the right ones. Are they going to be implemented effectively? And are they going to be implemented in a coherent way across the whole of the Union? If you can tick those boxes, then you’re likely to see investment flow. But the Strategy in itself it doesn’t. Well, it is better to say that it will not automatically lead to investment.
TDP: Do you think that the Strategy may lead to over-regulation?
BA: I think it’s a possibility. But this must not happen, if we’re serious about digital economy, because if it does, then you strangle the digital potential of the whole continent. Another matter of concern is that the implementation is too slow.
TDP: A number of observers from outside Europe pointed out that Europe is using a punitive approach towards US internet success stories or internet companies. Some are even talking about “digital protectionism”.
BA: The Internet economy is global by definition: if you want to seize its opportunities you need to take a global approach for a global market. I can’t see how Europe could be protectionist, it wouldn’t work anyway.
TDP: What do you think of the European Commission’s plan on Industry 4.0?
BA: Our first reaction is that overall the plan is a good step in the right direction. But I can’t help but notice that it was presented almost one year since the digital single market strategy was unveiled. We need to speed up the entire process.
TDP: Many fear that Industry 4.0 will be a huge job killer.
BA: I don’t think it’s so much doom and gloom. We feel clearly it will lead to some job losses, but it should also lead to the creation of other jobs, because you’re switching the economy from one type of activity to another. To be sure, the development of Industry 4.0 will lead to a switch from more low-skilled jobs to more high-skilled jobs. This change brings us to another crucial point, that is the responsiveness of the education systems. An extra effort is needed to drive our students towards math, technology and science-related studies, including math, physics, engineering and computer science. Today the industry complains that it’s missing half a million ICT engineers, software engineers, even mainstream engineering. The problem can be addressed only if we start working from the basic education. As far as the exiting work employment is concerned, we need to think very hard about vocational training, lifelong learning, re-skilling, because things are going to come along faster and faster.
This is part of a series of interviews held during the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. The event featured keynote speeches from Commissioner Oettinger Juhan Lepassaar and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.
Picture credits: Matt