What role does technology play in solving our societal challenges? How do we need to change government to stimulate and foster innovation? On Oct. 12th, our third Tech Policy Primer took place at the Mauritshuis in the Hague.
The event brought politicians, policy makers, academia, and business leaders together to discuss tech and digital policy in this current (economic) climate. Is our policy making still fit-for-purpose to accelerate the digital transition? What is needed to enable radical change and - yes - creative destruction?
Bart Schermer, partner at Considerati and professor Privacy and Cybercrime at Leiden University, opened the event and addressed the role that technology and innovation can play in solving todays and tomorrow’s societal challenges. He observed that in times of crisis, unprecedented policy changes are more likely. This provides the opportunity to catch up with much needed innovation in the way we govern and set policies. Bart further stated that both innovation and technology are essential in designing future-proof policies. They should be at the forefront of forging policy solutions.
Which bold institutional decisions are needed to fuel innovation? One of the topics was the importance of financial incentives for companies to adjust to new situations and new challenges, in which innovation plays an undeniably important part. How do you as a government find a balance between investing in companies and at the same time urging companies to innovate themselves to be future proof?
What is needed to enable radical change? The notion of creative destruction was mentioned, to make room for more innovative and future-proof companies and jobs. We cannot afford to be paralyzed and obsessively clinging on to the past, especially not in Europe.
Our speakers expressed concerns about the EU’s ability to govern in times of crisis. The EU should be less reactive to crisis; it is not the strongest who survive, but those that are able to adapt.
Nevertheless, various speakers pointed out that the EU has demonstrated its ability to be an innovative powerhouse in the past and that it has shown that cooperation can lead to strong solutions. This requires sacrifices from Member States to make the EU more agile and effective to tackle todays and tomorrow’s challenges. We have been able to build an economically and socially resilient society in Europe in the past, so why can’t we do this again?
Tech sovereignty – which was the theme of last year’s Tech Policy Primer, is of course still an important priority for politicians, policy makers and companies. If we are to maintain our way of living in a democratic digital autonomous environment, we need a competitive digital industry that can compete on a global scale. The proposed EU Chips Act, for example, was briefly discussed during the primer, with an emphasis on creating supply chains which are no longer ‘just-in-time', but more ‘just-in-case'. Strategic autonomy is often confused with autarky – which is an unrealistic objective in these times of ‘slowbalisation’.
Another key call-to-action is to ensure that there’s fair and strong enforcement at the European level, to ensure we all play by the same rules and produce innovation according to the standards and values that we’re used to as Europeans. When national authorities have legislative powers, they should also be empowered to enforce the laws that protect citizens. To evade situations where enforcement is weak. Not enforcing regulation is probably worse than not having regulation at all.
Regulation can be a powerful force for good: when society feels that new policies have been critically tested and that enforcement is strong and fair, there will be more trust in innovations.
Regulation can also inhibit growth and innovation. In some sectors, there is a competitive disadvantage for innovative companies that operate in Europe, due to the absence of a level-playing field on certain regulations.
The undeniable role of talent in innovation was touched upon by the panelists: there’s too much focus on ad hoc solutions, instead of longer-term strategies, such as adding a ‘Talent Chapter’ to new national and European laws and incorporating tech into school curricula. This training should then focus on three levels: those who make technology, those who use technology, and those who need to be skilled.
We should stay away from a ‘war for talent’ within Europe and instead focus on the presence of tech in the classroom. We need to make the pie bigger to secure our economic and geopolitical interests for future generations.
We also touched upon the role that big companies play for growing small and innovative businesses. We should not underestimate the funding lifelines that big corporates provide – and their important role as possible launching customers. Therefore, it’s important not to cut this off or limit, as we would risk entirely undermining our existing systems to scale businesses. Especially during current times of decreasing financial liquidity. Whilst recognizing the need for sound and fair antitrust laws, policy makers should not create unnecessary boundaries for large companies to invest in innovative smaller players.
Thanks again to all speakers, panelists and those who attended our third Tech Policy Primer 2022. We are already looking forward to continuing the conversation on innovation policy.
The Policy Primer is a policy pre-event of CES Unveiled Europe, hosted by CTA and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.