Press Broadening the EU's strategic autonomy

Opinion Articles | 30-03-2020 in The Parliament Magazine

Investing in education and innovation enriches our ability to respond to unforeseen circumstances and is crucial to ensuring our continued wellbeing.

There is a deep interdependence between the different regions of the world that brought us many gains, but also new problems like the ones we are now experiencing. The Von der Leyen Commission has made clear that the Union must develop a continental strategic autonomy. Until now, digital or technological sovereignty was the key component in the political debate around European autonomy. Our ability to achieve leadership in key emerging sectors was considered crucial to prevent our loss of influence, in a geoeconomic and political world dominated by the US and China. However, we need to broaden this ambition to other areas.

The COVID-19 crisis has only just begun and the EU is facing a battlefield, one where it is hard to know the economic limits of our actions or the consequences of inaction. We are entering a new era, which many are already calling “post-globalisation”, and this will have a major impact. First, this crisis made clear that the autonomy challenge is not only related to the digital age. The EU needs a much stronger policy, one which increases coordination and develops ways to keep control of strategic areas that have value chains related to our essential needs.

Moreover, it is clear that the role of research, innovation and education in the investment policies of all political actors is a strategic issue. Investing horizontally and continually in education and innovation enriches our ability to respond to unforeseen circumstances and is crucial for ensuring the continuation of our wellbeing and the progress we all hope to see. It is fundamental to ensuring our technological sovereignty. Second, to develop a real strategic autonomy, innovation must be embedded in the cultural framework where investments are directed. To be autonomous, the EU needs to develop its own direction; rather than copy the models of others it should focus on the benefits that strategic sectors could bring to the European lifestyle. We cannot repeat mistakes of the past. On the contrary, we must learn from them and be flexible enough to create more local innovation and thus nurture European creativity and community thinking. Third, data are the gold of our "techonomic" model and the basis of this new era. Data is an integral part of nowadays lives; it is produced everywhere and by everybody. Companies and services rely on data. We have a very lively business creativity that should be protected and enhanced through policies owing more coordination and solidarity. Rather that worrying about the fact that the first global data companies are not European, instead we should make sure that the services provided in Europe are reliable and efficient. To pursue this target, we must, of course, have infrastructures and a regulatory framework that allows data to be used in a flexible and simple manner. I believe that the proposals for a European data strategy, as recently announced by Commissioner Breton, are very promising.

The EU should set the stage for a global pact to grant reciprocal access to data related to research, science, health, education and culture. Once more, the present crisis has shown us the importance of health data and common health data standards, gathered at European level. Such data availability will be crucial for the swift advancement of health research. Our ability and willingness to proceed in this direction will contribute to our sovereignty. The least we can do is to increase the cooperation between Member States, uniting them around the search for more strategic autonomy while attempting to progressively build that stronger voice that the EU has always wished for but rarely allowed to happen.

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