In 2020 Europe dreams digitally

The EU wants to promote artificial intelligence and protect people from their effects. Both at the same time are difficult to do.

The European Union wants to promote the use of future technologies. A new strategy is to make the EU “a global role model for the digital economy”. Brussels wants to promote the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and networked data. “We are convinced that digital change can advance our economies and help us find European solutions to global challenges,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels on Wednesday. At the same time, the rights of citizens with regard to data protection should be respected. Von der Leyen wants to counter the technology pioneers USA and China with the new package.Where’s the intelligence here? Ursula von der Leyen is testing smart glasses at the University of BrusselsPhoto: Stephanie Lecocq / reuters

The Commission President sets ambitious goals – and tackles an important topic. In international comparison, the EU is falling behind despite all the advances: The big data companies like Google are located in the USA, while in China digitalization is much more advanced in everyday life. “Europe is at a crossroads,” comments Achim Berg, President of the Bitkom industry association. The EU Commission is taking the right path by focusing on the possibilities of AI.

However, there is still a danger that Europe will “brake” and disconnect from global developments. The new EU package contains not only the promotion of the new technology, but also strong elements of protecting the citizen from its effects. Bitkom President Berg fears that the regulations and restrictions may outweigh in practice, so that Europe does not catch up, but falls further behind. It was a “protectionist way of the wood” to prohibit processes across the board, for which not all data were collected according to European values. After all, nobody knows exactly what is meant by this. This creates legal uncertainty. In the industry, hopes for a resounding success of the EU concept are limited.

In any case, it is not the first strategy of its kind. The Commission had already adopted a digitization program with great pomp in 2014. It was scheduled to run for five years. However, last year’s balance was poor: The then digital commissioner Günther Oettinger had organized a budget of 5 billion euros – a drop in the bucket compared to the amounts moving in China and the USA.

At any rate, at the end of the project, the EU’s Digital Economy and Society Index (Desi) showed that little was achieved. The direct exchange of information between companies has only increased from 34 percent to 36 percent since 2016. The number of online retailers offering cross-border sales rose by only half a percentage point in the same period.

The big common market is actually the special strength of Europe – and exactly the property that has similarities with the leading countries China and the USA. Only: Europe’s digital companies have so far not been able to exploit the possibilities of the common internal market, the language and country borders cannot be effectively overcome.

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