Reflections on European Tech Policies

As part of our European Tech Policy Primer, our Managing Partner Ton shared some of his reflections based on his industry experience and the input from our distinguished speakers. The driver to organise this Primer in close partnership with the US Embassy and CTA was to bring together frontrunners from both government and businesses to stimulate the much needed debate to make European and domestic technology policies fit for the future. 

We require governments and politicians to set out the boundaries and work out the core principles for our society. Businesses, start-ups and universities should bring us innovation. The challenge is that governments and tech companies are different beasts and don’t naturally understand each other. Another challenge is that nobody knows in advance where technology will be heading. This simply means that we are all still exploring and none of us have all the answers or solutions yet. Trying to understand each other is key to be able to move forward in the technology debate. 

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However, in practice we often see that regulation takes places on the basis of incidents rather than strategies, which isn’t beneficial to reach our full innovation potential. Politicians and governments can stimulate this by providing principle-based guidelines with room for experimentation. Tech companies should take a role by means of getting involved in the policymaking process earlier and by developing the narrative on how their technologies work and taking others into consideration when rolling out their innovations. If we don’t leave room for experimentation, and sometimes insightful failures, there will simply not be enough innovation. This is also a choice. 

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We are not going to move forward if we want all innovations to fit into the existing policy frameworks. So, we should be actively open to change. Hence, it’s of the upmost importance that we find ways to involve innovators, challengers and disruptors in policymaking processes. These new players do not necessarily fit into the existing mold. Therefore we need to put extra effort in to reaching them and get them to take part in the conversation in order to make sure that society as a whole benefits from their innovation. And we know from experience that there are many individuals on their side with a strong desire to contribute to the greater good and a prosperous future for all. 

We strongly believe that we should innovate responsibly with respect for fundamental human rights. However, the speed at which we do this is also critical. While dialogue is essential, it is not the objective: it should lead to outcomes. An interesting example is the introduction of the digital signature already years ago: in the Netherlands we had extensive debates about all possible policy aspects and it took us 8 years to come up with a policy framework and make it work in practice. The same policy development took Singapore 2 years.

 

If we need four times longer to embed innovations into our society, than we run the risk that the future will not be decided by us, but by others who have moved much faster. Let’s cherish our debate and democratic processes, but let’s also make choices at one point and move forward. We might have it wrong every now and then, but the biggest risk we see that we’ll be overtaken left, right and centre whilst we're still locked in debate. 

 

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