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AI, innovation, and talent: What tech wants from Europe’s elections

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Euronews Next speaks to start-ups and tech organisations to see what they expect from Europe’s next parliament.

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With its innovative start-ups and world-first regulation, Europe’s technology sector should not be ignored in the European Parliament elections next month, insiders say.

But the industry fears being made a scapegoat, seeing a populist parliament serving national interests, and a brain drain on the continent.

Euronews Next spoke to tech groups and start-ups to find out their hopes and worries for the next parliament.

‘Populist rather than realistic’

“We really hope technology won’t be used as a scapegoat as much as it has been by the EU institutions in recent years, when the tech sector was blamed for all manner of worries, as some kind of vague boogeyman,” said Daniel Friedlaender, the Computer & Communications Industry Association’s (CCIA) Senior Vice President and Head of CCIA Europe.

“Instead it should be seen as one of the most empowering tools for Europeans,” he added.

Polls suggest far-right and hardline conservative parties will make large gains, potentially finishing first in nine EU countries and second and third in another nine EU states.

“Some of the dominant campaign promises are populist rather than realistic, whether blaming problems on technology, the EU’s very existence, or other people,” Friedlaender said.

“There have been plenty of issues with the EU’s rush to regulate tech in recent years, but the last thing we need is more protectionism or populism. That would only hurt Europe’s competitiveness and social fabric”.

He hopes there will be more emphasis by political hopefuls on technology’s potential to unlock new jobs, make life more convenient, and meet climate goals.

‘Different opinions about refugee immigration’

The seats that may go to populists are likely to be taken in part from Europe’s Green Party, which made considerable gains in the 2019 European elections, which could impact green tech companies.

The Estonian company eAgronom Global, whose software lets farmers manage their carbon footprint and earn and trade carbon credits rewards, could be one of those impacted by the parliament changes.

“The elections will certainly have some effect on eAgronom and other companies. Hopefully, the biggest impact will still be on our actions and ability to serve clients but legislators’ decisions still have some impact,” said Robin Saluoks, the start-up’s CEO.

He said he would like more clarity about the EU carbon removal certification scheme and the expectations of food companies about dealing with their Scope 3 emissions, which are emissions that the company itself does not produce. He said such initiatives are moving in the right direction but more still needs to be done.

He is also concerned about whether immigration rules will bar talent from entering the continent.

“There are a lot of different opinions about refugee immigration but even the most conservative forces agree that we are happy to welcome a well-educated and value-adding workforce. Europe is the best region to live [in] and we can use it to our advantage to grow the economy,” Saluoks said.

‘Digital technology is a geopolitical issue’

The skills shortage is an increasingly serious problem for employers across Europe, especially when it comes to the tech sector.

“We need to invest in innovation, we need to invest in skills. It’s a very strong axis. We can see that in Europe today, there’s a shortage of skills to support digital technology,” said Véronique Torner, head of tech consulting firm Numeum.

She said “there is a lot at stake” for the tech community in the elections but “there’s concern today because we don’t see it [tech] mentioned in the debate”.

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Torner said Europe is falling behind in terms of competitiveness.

Her hope for the next parliament is to see Europe having more of a vision that is capable of driving real industrial policies.

“Digital technology has to be an important issue because digital technology is a geopolitical issue for Europe and a major economic issue,” she said.

“We can see that digital technology – and there’s been a lot of buzz about artificial intelligence and generative computing – is actually shaking up the world of work and the world of skills. So it’s a major social issue”.

‘Europe first and not nations first’

There is no question that AI will be an important topic for Europe’s next parliament. AI start-ups such as France’s Mistral AI or Germany’s Aleph Alpha have proved that point.

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“I’m not too worried about a right or left parliament but the question will be open to working on a European level,” said Marianne Tordeux Bitker, director of public affairs for France Digitale, Europe’s largest start-up association.

“It should be Europe first and not nations first,” she added.

Her biggest concern is the need to understand what the sector requires.

“In Europe, we are good at launching projects, but not so good at creating global European champions,” she said, adding that the big issue is financing.

Implementing the rules

Another key priority when it comes to Europe’s tech sector is regulation, which the new parliament will have to take over. The EU AI Act and cryptocurrency rules, MiCA, are expected to be rolled out.

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While previous MEPs voted on the rulebooks, it will be up to the new parliament to implement them.

“The various regulatory initiatives which have been targeting the tech sector are the most pressing key issues,” said Hugo Volz Oliveira, founding member of the New Economy Institute, a pro-crypto advocacy group.

“With MiCA coming in, it will be mostly about how these rules will be implemented and that will show how serious the EU parliament is in following up these planned initiatives”.

But these regulations should not be implemented with a one-size-fits-all approach as it could threaten cyber and financial security.

“The new parliament must balance its approach to AI regulation, with banks already being burdened by extensive regulations that can produce unintended consequences,” said Marit Rødevand, CEO and co-founder of Strise, a Norweigan anti-money laundering intelligence company.

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She said imposing excessive and inflexible regulations can burden banks and institutions, even if underpinned by good intentions.

“Given that malicious actors are not restricted by any laws or regulations, if this balance cannot be found, the gap between those using AI for good and those with bad intentions will widen”.

‘Keeping up with technological advancements’

As well as regulation, defence tech procurement will also be important as war is on Europe’s doorstep.

The world is learning from Ukraine’s cost-effective defence technologies.

“I hope to see a government that understands the importance of keeping up with technological advancements and is willing to streamline processes to ensure that our defence capabilities remain relevant and effective in the face of rapidly evolving threats,” said Ricardo Mendes, CEO of the Lisbon-based IT, aerospace, defence and security technologies company Tekever.

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He said he hopes to see bold reforms that prioritise agility, innovation, and collaboration in defence procurement.

“The next parliament needs to recognise the urgency of modernising defence procurement and embrace a more proactive and adaptive approach to ensure that our armed forces are equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century”.

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