Reflections on the Tech Policy Primer 2021

On October 13th , Considerati hosted the Tech Policy Primer 2021 in collaboration with CTA and the US embassy. This event brought together business, science, policy makers and politicians to discuss how to accelerate the digital transition: what choices do we have to make to nurture our digital 'industry' – keeping up with global competition on technology. How do we balance safeguarding our European values with retaining our wealth in the digital economy?

Start of the event

Bart Schermer from Considerati opened the event together with Marja Verloop, Chargé d'Affaires at the US Embassy. In his opening remarks, Bart stated that, if we are to maintain our way of living with digital autonomy, we need a competitive digital industry that can compete on a global scale. In her opening words, Marja added that for the digital industry, policy is inevitable. However, that requires smart choices. This regulatory environment should be fit for purpose for both SMEs and larger corporates, as they mutually benefit from one another.

Fire side chat - Marietje Schaake and Alexander Rinnooy Kan

Marietje Schaake, director cyber policy at Stanford University, had a conversation with Alexander Rinnooy Kan, professor at UvA and former chair of SER and VNO-NCW, about the discussion on strategic autonomy. Marietje opened the debate by asking about the historical overview of the strategic autonomy debate. According to Alexander we are now in a new phase to cover an old problem, namely the need to organize economic innovation. However, economic innovation is hard to organize because it's not policy makers who make innovation happen, its talent – which we need to enable through setting the best conditions in which talent can thrive (research, immigration, sensible regulation, leveraging European scale).

Marietje continued that the strategic economy debate is a response to the failure to invest sufficiently, but also a response to changing geopolitical relations. The heavy state intervention in China is not the democratic path that we should go on. We in Europe are trying to marry economy and geopolitics. In some instances, that leads to countries using the security lens to justify state intervention. According to Alexander, security is a valid reason, as these issues are very real.

Alexander ends the fire-side chat with three main wishes: (i) double the science budget, (ii), act like true Europeans and bring out the best of the continent, and (iii) make sure that Europe continues to lead the regulatory debate with industrial potential in the back of our mind, that might be our cutting edge.  

Panel discussion

After the fire side chat, we started a panel discussion with Loubna Bouarfa (CEO/founder Okra technologies), Bernard ter Haar (Special Advisor to the Central Government), Jeroen van Glabbeek (CEO and Maaike Okano-Heijmans (Senior Research Fellow Clingendael Institute).

Loubna brought the perspective of a fast-growing tech company to the discussion. Her wish is to define an outcome driven regulatory framework that adapts to innovations and new developments. Moreover, Europe needs a data sharing model across member states to leverage all the business opportunities.

According to Bernard, the digital world has an important impact on the struggle for power between nations and the subsequent tensions. Big tech companies create data conglomerates, and the entire economy has become dependent on what is happening in the digital sector. The role of the government is to regulate proper behavior in the digital world and create a digital infrastructure that is accessible for all.

According to Jeroen, there is a big gap between companies and the government and a lack of trust. He finds this problematic as it leads to frictions in the market and efficiency loss. Regulation such as the GDPR are good steps, they are even copied by other countries. However, such regulations should not be too complicated, otherwise innovation will not thrive.  

Maaike reacted to the three wishes of Alexander during the fire-side chat. She questions whether investments should really go to science. We are doing great in R&D, but we are lacking commercial value. We should invest in commercialization of science. About being Europeans, she agrees that an open strategic economy makes sense at the EU-level. Companies should take more pride in being European instead of dreaming of being bought by Google. Lastly, about leading the regulatory debate, she proposed that the government can leverage regulatory-tech companies to help companies abide by these rules.

On the question from Marietje Schaake whether tech companies have become geopolitical actors in their own mind, the reactions were very diverse. Maaike gave the argument that it is a worrying trend that innovation now mostly comes from the private sector, whilst that used to be the public sector. Bernard added that the untransparent data collection by big companies is concerning, as it takes the power away from the consumer. Jeroen highlighted to the other side of the discussion, namely that exactly the scale of big tech companies is why they thrive and can invest in innovation. It is that scale of tech companies that can help solve large societal problems. Loubna concluded that regulations are never going to catch up with innovation. Thus, a more robust way of working between governments and tech companies is necessary, thereby referring to the trust issue mentioned by Jeroen.

Closing remarks by Gary Shapiro and Focco Vijselaar

The event ended with closing remarks by Gary Shapiro (CEO CTA) and Focco Vijselaar (Director-General Business and Innovation from the Ministry of Economic Affairs). Gary started by stating that CTA does not represent companies but represents innovation and developing collaboration and trust between actors. Gary also called for closer transatlantic cooperation, to align innovation with our joint (western) values. Focco continued that he is very much encouraged by what he heard during the Policy Primer debate. One thing he did not hear is capital. We need funds that are not managed by government, but by forward-looking experts. It is important to look at the future, which is exactly what CES Unveiled in Amsterdam wants to do. The business community has a big role to play in a responsible future, together with the government.

Special thanks to the speakers at the Tech Policy Primer 2021

Bart Schermer - Partner Considerati

Marja Verloop - Chargé d’Affaires at the US embassy

Marietje Schaake - Director cyber policy at Stanford University

Alexander Rinnooy Kan - Professor at UvA, former chair of SER and VNO-NCW

Loubna Bouarfa - CEO and founder Okra technologies

Bernard ter Haar - Special Advisor Central Government

Jeroen van Glabbeek - CEO

Maaike Okano-Heijmans - Senior Research Fellow Clingendael Institute

Gary Shapiro - CEO CTA

Focco Vijselaar - DG Business and Innovation