Europe needs to shape its digital future, for the good of its citizens and the economy

The European Union is facing many challenges today. It needs to spur economic growth and restore competitiveness. At home, it has to regain its citizens’ trust and overcome political differences, abroad it needs to reinforce its sovereignty and reaffirm its standing in the world.

At Orange, we believe digitalisation can help transform these challenges into opportunities.

New technologies are disrupting our lives. No one is being spared by the ongoing revolution in e-commerce, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, smart transport or e-health. They will continue to modify the way in which we communicate, work and live. They can also contribute to fighting climate change.

This, however, does not mean the digital tide should be passively received and accepted as it comes: as with all phenomena, it needs to be mastered, governed and shaped into the force for good we ultimately want it to be.

Europe as a whole needs to stand up to the disruption brought about by new technologies, as a provider and not only as a user, and produce a collective, human-centric approach hinged on the European values of freedom, pluralism and the protection of privacy.

For the EU to reap the benefits of digitalisation, it has to make sure that all citizens and organisations gain from it. Inclusivity is a prerequisite for enabling long-lasting, digitally-driven growth. This is why, at Orange, we have developed a “HumanInside” philosophy, a way of shaping our innovative services revolving around individuals and society, by making sure that they benefit everyone.

We know that having a vision is not enough. Concrete actions ought to be taken as well.

First: each and every citizens have to be empowered to flourish in a digital society. This places education at the centre of any future-oriented agenda being developed either by policy makers, public or private entities. Everyone, from pupils to teachers, from the unemployed to business owners and pensioners, should have the opportunity to embrace the new knowledge that comes with the digital society. With this in mind, we have developed specific programs aimed at honing digital skills. Our SuperCoder initiative, for instance, sees our employees teaching children the fundamentals of coding; the Cyberdefense Academy trains much-needed cybersecurity experts.

Second: in order to compete on a global scale with the mighty economies of China and the US, Europe has to revamp its industrial power and re-equip its industry for the digital age. A twenty-first century industrial strategy that is fit for purpose will be structured around the newly emerging data economy.

The EU has to ensure pioneering innovation in its territory, building on the protection of citizens’ personal data. By doing so, the EU can set worldwide golden standards, such as the General Data Protection Regulation. Developing a trustworthy AI can be another opportunity for the EU to drive innovation that people can support and to fix the terms of the global debate.

But we do not accept that AI investments are six times higher in the US and three times higher in Asia than in Europe, or that European platforms only represent 4% of a market dominated by American and Asian players. The EU has to become a more attractive place for investments and innovation.

To do so, several tools can be combined: a stronger harmonisation of the single market, a supportive approach on European firms’ ambition, from startups to larger companies, to become global leaders, a fairer and more balanced digital taxation, the development of an EU-wide cloud strategy, a more positive stance on the development of innovative services, notably via enhanced cooperation between companies, and a competition policy fit for the digital era, focusing on innovation and market dynamics.

Third: cybersecurity is now paramount to protect our democracy and economy. We welcome that the EU has already started to look into this, but more will be required, notably through the definition of cybersecurity certification schemes, or by defining the security criteria that digital network components should comply with. Harmonisation is here again essential.

Through Orange Cyberdefense, we are strongly committed to ensuring the best level of security possible to our customers.

Fourth: research and development are a strong European asset. But we have to improve the incentives and the means to step from research outcomes to market innovation.

We also have to preserve standardisation and open innovation, increasing end users choice, and to ensure that the EU actors are predominantly active in standardisation bodies.

And finally, network infrastructures, which are wired into Orange’s DNA, are underpinning the ongoing digital revolution. There won’t be a vibrant digital economy in the EU without a wide availability of state-of-the-art networks and technologies, like Fiber to the Home, 4G and soon 5G. All public policies in this field should aim at supporting private investments, through smart regulation and new solutions that incentivise long-term projects and easier coverage, especially when allocating spectrum frequencies.

Europe has the means to succeed. This requires citizens, businesses, civil society, all of us, to stand together, and the EU to demonstrate its political will to do so.

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