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Digital innovation: Europe 'losing ground' says Kroes

Wednesday, October 22nd 2014 by Ellen Branagh

Europe is lagging behind the rest of the world because of a divide between digital and analogue thinkers, outgoing digital commissioner and vice president of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes said today – but it's not too late to catch up.

In an interview at the Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam, subsequent to her final major speech in her current role, she said Europe would have to be united if it is to regain a position in the "driver's seat" when it comes to digital technology.

Ms Kroes told Cable.co.uk, "It's not too late but we have to do it now – the world is a global scene, no doubt about that.

"We are losing ground, not only to the Far East but also to the US, and other countries are preparing for being involved in this whole economic and social effort.

"So we need to be active. Nothing ever will happen if we are not united."

On the digital divide in Europe – the subject of her speech, Ms Kroes said, "When there is a divide between the digital thinkers and the analogue thinkers, analogue is yesterday and digital is today and the future.

"So we have to prepare everyone in that same mood in going forward instead of looking backward, based on what was and not what is, giving opportunities to be back in the driver's seat position Europe deserves.

"For me the digital and analogue way of thinking is all over the place, it is one Europe and another Europe and we can't afford and we shouldn't afford to neglect reality. Digital is a fact. It's also giving a lot of opportunities.

Ms Kroes, who was responsible for tackling telecoms companies about mobile roaming charges and has championed the idea of a digital single market, said she would always have wanted to achieve more.

But, she said, "We are on the right track. Recognition for digital development, recognition of what it's meant for Europe, as well as for our industry, as well as for our citizens."

Asked about her previous comments telling telecoms firms to "adapt or die", she urged everyone involved in the industry to "be part of the solution", saying, "be a part of the whole debate and the dialogue, it's not one-way traffic, it's two-way traffic, and it's talking about not next year but talking about the next generation.

"It is our obligation to act, in my opinion."

In her speech at the Broadband Forum, an annual media, technology and telecoms event, Ms Kroes said she was worried that Europe is missing large parts of the digital opportunity and would "continue to stagnate".

She told the conference that the existence of "two Europes" that rarely talk to each other is holding it back and urged corporate and political leaders to lead the way in uniting the two.

Ms Kroes said that if she had her time as digital commissioner again, she would have: set fewer targets; pushed the telecoms industry harder; and moved sooner on deregulation and net neutrality.

She said, "It is not enough to come to Brussels and complain or put your hand out for money. It is not enough to ask what Europe can do for you. Europe is you!

"Europe is never going to grow again unless we see that we have to learn again how to compromise and face the future based on that compromise.

"Let me borrow from Elvis Presley. We need a 'little less confrontation and a little more action.'"

She added, "I can still remember what war was like, and what Europe looked like after the war – my whole childhood, my university, my life as a national Minister: I spent all of it during a time of two Europes.

"And if I believe anything in this world it is that we cannot go back to a world of two Europes.

"But healing these new divisions starts with everyone in this room. We agree on more than we disagree on. We are part of something bigger than our own opinions, our own company, our own country.

"We are part of one Europe – and it is time to compromise and start building it again.

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