Departing EU Digital Commissioner Warns Against 'Analogue Europe' Blocking Digital Innovation

from the say-that-again dept

We’ve written numerous times about outgoing EU Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes. While we don’t always agree with her, we definitely agree with her more often than not. She’s now given quite a speech about the importance of digital innovation and highlighting how legacy industries, fearful of change, are seeking to hold it back. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a key part. After talking about how Europe used to dominate in innovation, it’s since fallen behind both the US and Asia.

When we looked over the last 30 years of the exhibit, we saw Asian innovation taking over Europe and rivalling the US. Europe was fading into the background.

And then I am confronted with the statistics. For every Sweden or UK or Netherlands (who have 4G and where nearly everyone is online), we also have a Germany and Italy and the rest of Europe. There fast broadband infrastructure and skills are average at best, sometimes non-existent.

I ask myself why did Europe stop inventing and investing? Why did Europe lose interest?

The answer? Legacy industries, seeking to hold back innovation.

We have a problem today of two Europes: a digital Europe and an analogue Europe. Of digital mind-sets and analogue mind-sets.

These are two Europes that rarely talk to each other. Two Europes that hold back all of Europe because they are not in sync.

There is a Europe that is full of energy and digital ideas. We have a growing start-up scene with thousands of people who are the smartest in the world at what they do. From Skype to Spotify to SAP, from Rovio to to Campus Party. We have a young generation that uses their digital devices and apps and new ways of building communities and businesses.

This Europe is optimistic. This is the Europe where half of new jobs come from ? the ICT-enabled jobs. This Europe is mobile and flexible. This Europe hates barriers and looks for new opportunities. This is the Europe that likes innovation ? and is happy to use Uber and Air BnB.

But there is a second Europe. It is a Europe that is afraid of this digital future. They worry about where the new middle class jobs will come from. They don?t want to jump off what they see as a digital cliff. They like the comforting idea of putting up walls; to many people it makes sense to restrict Americans and Asians and protect against their innovations. They tend to be older. They tend to want strong regulations protecting what they know, instead of taking a chance on what they don?t know.

And the big question she asks, is from which of those two Europes will the EUs leaders come from?

It comes down to this question: is Europe?s leadership class willing to be excited about innovation and start-ups? Or is Europe going to be exhausted by using up its energy safeguarding vested interests, and holding up ancient barriers?

We need to ask if we can reinvent ourselves. And if we are willing to be led to a digital renaissance based on an open mindset and a belief that we can be the best if we want to be.

She goes on to admit the mistakes that she’s made, but also asks that companies need to admit to their own mistakes as well. She calls out European companies for resisting change and resisting entrepreneurship. She calls out American companies for “trusting the government too much” and not valuing customers’ privacy enough.

It’s a good speech, well worth reading. Even if we didn’t always agree with Kroes, in our own experiences, she was (unlike many politicians) not just exceptionally thoughtful on these matters, but was also always willing to listen to, and take into account, the views of those who disagreed with her. Hopefully, those who are replacing her will similarly recognize the importance of innovation as well.

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Comments on “Departing EU Digital Commissioner Warns Against 'Analogue Europe' Blocking Digital Innovation”

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tqk (profile) says:

… but was also always willing to listen to, and take into account, the views of those who disagreed with her.

She tried. She is mortal (not a geek), but she tried.

Hopefully, those who are replacing her will similarly recognize the importance of innovation as well.

Not bloody likely. Without someone like her in there holding back the barbarians at the gates, who tries with an open mind to understand what’s going on and maybe do the right thing if that’s possible, it’s just going to be yet a new battlefield littered with paid lobbyists asserting other’s toxic agendas. I’ll miss her.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The german guy on charge of the digital agenda comes from energy commission and is pretty much persona non grata in Germany. The estonian second in charge, with responsibility on internal digital market sounds pretty old industry. No, Neelie Kroes has been as good as you get them and the future looks a lot bleaker for reforms now.

DocGerbil100 (profile) says:


Normally, I have no regard at all for politicians, but as Ms Kroes goes, I find myself wishing her well, wherever she’s going.

There seems little chance of her replacement being anything more than just another corporate stooge, eager to spout whatever nonsense the IFPI and MPAA have written for him.

Good luck, Ms Kroes. I rather think we shall actually miss you. 🙁

GEMont says:

a spade

“They tend to want strong regulations protecting what they know, instead of taking a chance on what they don’t know.”

Its not so much what they “know” that they want to protect.

Its what they OWN and the means by which they own it, that they want to protect.

George Bush was catering to these wealthy neander-folk when he gave all those speeches about the rise of the Ownership Society.

What he was talking about was the manipulation of the laws, world wide (trade agreements) to protect those who already had everything – what we kindly refer to as the Legacy Owners, from those who wanted some of it – the rest of us.

What these massively wealthy neander-folk want to prevent, is the loss of their current comfy life styles, including their nicely carved-in-stone and protected-by-law means of income.

What they fear is that these new ideas and innovative industries and services, will provide easier and cheaper sources of the goods and services they currently hold a monopoly on.

This is not xenophobia. This is simply greed and the desire to stay at the top of the food chain.

Pretending that they are dragging the world to hell because they are afraid of the unknown is way too generous.

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