How much does my voice in Europe count? This is a question for which we have to provide an answer to the European pe ...
21. January 2019
DLD Conference Munich
This is the speech prepared and pronounced freely by Manfred Weber at the DLD conference in Munich.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for organizing this excellent event. In particular, Hubert Burda and Stephanie Czerny.
Without you, this great conference would not be possible.
I am invited as a politician to contribute to this high-level Conference. But I am not only a politician. I am also an engineer. And my passion for science goes back to my childhood. As a boy, I read the books of Jules Verne. I was fascinated by the story of Captain Nemo in “20.000 miles under the Sea”. He built the first real submarine with which he discovered the wonders of the deep seas. I dreamt of being Dr Samuel Fergusson in “Five weeks in a balloon”. He built the first balloon that could really be steered with which he discovered the African continent. And I was a bit more sceptical towards the men of the Baltimore Gun club “From the Earth to the Moon”. They built a massive gun, they put three men into it, and they shot them to the moon. These books of Jules Verne were written in the 1860s and 1870s in Europe. Entire generations of young Europeans were reading them and dreaming of them. And it is no wonder that, at the same time, Europe was leading the scientific revolutions of the world. Because everybody wanted to be an inventor and a discoverer back then. Everybody was passionate about science and progress. I deeply believe Europe must come back to that spirit of invention and desire for discovery. Nowadays, many people in Europe see innovation not as a dream, but as a nightmare. People are afraid of new technologies. They are afraid of robots taking away our jobs; of smartphones spying on our private lives; of genetic labs breeding unknown species.
Together, we have to take up those fears and counter them. If we want to get support for innovation, we have to care about the concerns of our societies. For example, we should massively invest in training workers in the sectors most affected by digital transformation. Without trust, no business can exist. That is why we need strong cybersecurity. In fact, 61% of European citizens worry that elections can be manipulated through cyber-attacks. We need ethical standards to protect the digital revolution from a Wild West mentality. We need data protection rules and we have to implement them. At the same time, we should strike a balance and not exaggerate: our rules must enable digital and biotech innovation, not hinder it. Because digitalization is much more than data protection rules. We have to focus now on how to bring Europe back to its DNA: the place for innovation in the world. Let´s turn nightmares into dreams.
To make people dream again we need to show them how innovation can really improve their daily lives. In the era of the new digital revolution, Europe can lead the way only if we put people first. Europe can lead the way only if we leave no one behind. And Europe can lead the way only if all our citizens can benefit from it. Let´s put people first. Just two examples: Most of us have a family member who has battled cancer. More than 40% of us -here in this room - will face cancer in our lives. We found a vaccination against smallpox. We found penicillin against pneumonia. Mankind has already eradicated these devastating diseases. Why should we not also manage to eradicate cancer? Let´s make it a common project. Let us launch a European master plan to cure cancer.
Or think of your childhood, when you were visiting your grandparents: in the first years, they were taking care of you at their own place. Later, their home was gone. You could only meet them in a small room, in a retirement house. So why could we not make sure that our parents and grandparents can continue living in their homes? Let’s find the innovation that keeps our families together. Together, we can develop smart houses for elderly people.
In Europe, we believe that digital technology does not shape people. It is the people who shape digital technology. The digital revolution, it is not only about jobs and about becoming the creative lab of the world. After all, innovation is a cold word. It is more about why and how we are driving innovation. Putting people first means that we make this world simply a better place for millions of people and, to be honest, for most of us in our lives. But putting people first means also being really successful. Only a purpose, not just money, drives innovative people. If we can answer those questions, Europe can be a leading force in Artificial Intelligence, robotics, biomedicine, big data and computing. But putting people first also means to care more about fairness.
The first industrial revolution was a true booster for the living standards of the people in Europe. The steam engine, the factories, the railroads and the division of labour created not only new products. This new productivity also created public hospitals, public transports, health insurance and pension systems. The people could see, feel and touch all the concrete advantages of progress.
However, these improvements did not come easily. The first industrial revolution also created huge divisions in Europe’s societies. It created a huge divide between the winners and the losers of that new world. It caused terrible social conflicts in many countries. And it resulted in Communism in wide parts of the continent, with incredible sufferings for the people especially in the East. Therefore, let us not repeat the mistakes of the first industrial revolution. Let´s shape the digital revolution in a fair manner to bring our societies together.
In today's digital revolution, there is again a massive creation of wealth. Young software developers have become multi-billionaires within a couple of years. Nevertheless, people do not really see what are the benefits for them. We will only succeed in this next industrial revolution if we manage to take our Social Market Economies into the digital age. We must build a true Digital Social Market Economy in Europe. We have to adapt our market economy rules to this new age. For example, it took several years and two Commissioners to make the Google prohibition decision on Google Shopping: too long, with lasting effects on the market. There is a thin line between thoughtfulness and indecisiveness. We need to show leadership and to be action-driven. We have to assess every tech merger when the transaction is above the threshold of 500 million euros. Because at the time of the acquisition a start-up might not be a potential competitor to a tech-giant, but this might be the case 5-10 years down the road. We have to empower our entrepreneurs but, in the same way, we want to make sure that the rest of our community can enjoy the benefits of progress. So let us use a part of the productivity gains of the digital revolution and invest it in the future of the people.
Let us raise a “Digital Market entry fee” for tech giants that want to enter the European Digital Single Market. With their contribution, we will be able to invest in future technologies and to improve the daily lives of the people.
Furthermore, we should also avoid a second mistake in the first industrial revolution. Let´s make sure that, this time, no region in Europe would be left behind. Economic growth in the new Member States has been a success story. In the last 12 months alone, Poland, Hungary and Romania registered, respectively, 5.7%, 5.2% and 4.1% GDP of growth. However, that is not the whole story. Half of the story is told by an economist. More money is flowing out these countries than is flowing in: because cars and machines are built there, but companies´ headquarters are in the West. The other half of the story is told by political scientists such as Ivan Krastev. He talks about the brain drain in his native Bulgaria: because school education is good there, but the best universities and the best job opportunities are in the West. And he warns us of how much such brain drain could divide society and polarize Europe. So how can we stop money from leaving Eastern Europe? How can we stop the young and educated from leaving? The answer is once again: innovation!
Let’s invest in supercomputers in every region of Europe to ensure that all regions are competitive and at the front-run of innovation. Let’s roll-out 5G internet and provide e-infrastructure to make sure all areas of Europe are well-connected and the digital wave can spread. Let’s invest in smart cities and smart villages to improve the quality of life in the countryside. Let’s empower SMEs in traditional sectors to go digital. According to a recent study by Oxford Economics on the “The Impact of Online Content on European Tourism,” increasing tourism-related online content would increase Greece’s GDP by 3.9% and generate over 176,000 new jobs.
Being ready for the digital age also means doing it the European way. First of all, we have to implement our values also in the digital world. Online platforms should bear more responsibility in taking down controversial content. Racism, misogyny, hate speech, terrorist propaganda should not be tolerated online. For instance, research from Amnesty International has revealed the alarming impact of abuse and harassment on social media on women. According to a survey, women are abused on Twitter every 30 seconds. Social networks should implement quick and effective take-down procedures for such harmful content. This should be a matter of hours, not days or weeks. There is no risk to freedom of speech. On YouTube, for example, 400 hours of content are uploaded every minute. If a fraction of this content is taken down, free speech will hardly suffer. We also need to take a serious look at “slow social”. Social media have been optimising their services for more attention, making it frictionless to share or forward messages. Those platforms have to bear more responsibility in countering fake news, by implementing technological tools that allow identifying mass messaging from doubtful sources. They should also help us encouraging young people to spend less time on their mobile and to rely much more on traditional media for news. We need to gain more trust in online media.
Regulation is very often seen as a burden to innovation. I often hear we should not regulate further since Europe is in competition with the rest of the world and competitors would not follow such an approach to regulation. In the short run, this may be right, but in the long run, they are mistaken. For sustainable growth, for the acceptance of digital innovation, we have to set fundamental rules. Everybody here in this room wants to make sure that privacy and data-protection are guaranteed in their daily life. Everybody here wants to ensure protection for creativity with strong copyright rules. And everybody wants to have a fair tax-system to guarantee that everybody contributes its share to our society.
If we accept these principles of data-protection, copyright and fair taxation as fundamental principles, then we have to implement them also in the digital world. A new app of an engineer is equally important to protect as a new song of a musician or the article of a journalist. All of them worked hard and all of them were innovative and creative. Hence, all of them should be protected. That is why I strongly support the current copyright reform in the EU. Otherwise, we will lose the most valuable thing in Europe: creativity! I am aware this is a complex discussion. How many rules do we need? How to implement them? How can we avoid bureaucracy? In the long run, innovation will only work if we combine it with fundamental principles accepted by European society. The European way of life provides us with a direction for the future. But to realise this dream, we Europeans have to stick together and understand innovation as a team effort.
Think of 1969, when the first man set foot on the Moon. For the first time, the whole world was looking at the same images at the same time, staring in wonder at their TV screens. It was a first true connection across mankind, all united as a community. Neil Armstrong was surely brave, but he did not get on the Moon all by himself. It took much more. It took years of teamwork between the brightest minds of the time. It took an incredible amount of resources: In the year of the first Apollo flight, 420.000 people were working for NASA. It took a true spirit of discovery to achieve something greater than man itself. For us, the lesson must be that only by working together can we achieve great things.
And we, in Europe, can be a great team! We can turn a disadvantage into an advantage. Our diversity can be our strength!
Today, we have an example of this: we all came together, engineers, researchers, investors, and politicians because we all know one thing: great innovations are not only about individual genius, it is about a common effort. That is why in the next legislature, we have to join our forces in Europe: we have to establish an Investment Plan 4.0 to mobilise private investment. And we have to massively step up the research funding in the multi-annual budget of the EU. Only by pooling our resources will we be able to cure cancer, to develop smart homes for the elderly and to introduce the next generation aeroplanes. One can wonder: why should all this happen in Europe and not anywhere else in the world?
Because we follow the European way to open the next chapter of innovation by not simply duplicating the Silicon Valley. We have to stick to our own principles and fundamental values of the Social market economy. Our role model is not China: why should it then be our model for innovation? I think we should stick to our values and to our traditions. These are Europe’s real advantages. In Europe’s first innovation wave, in the times of the Renaissance, there was an intense exchange between Florence, Milan, Parma, Bologna, Paris, Prague and so on: this fruitful competition was our richness. We do not need one single melting pot; we have to stick to Europe’s unity in diversity. We also have to be reminded of the creative minds and innovative people that Europe has lost because of the Third Reich. The spirit of Tel Aviv has much in common with what Europe has to remain in the upcoming years: its spirit and appetite for innovation. Europe needs this academic, human, open-minded and pragmatic approach. Therefore, let’s make Europe the place for innovation once again. Let´s make the world a better place.
Let’s open the next chapter for innovation in Europe. The next European Commission must seize the digital revolution: It is time to abandon the age of egoism and walk into the age of optimism. It is time to wake up from the nightmare and go back to the dream. It is time to regain the desire for the progress of the time of Jules Verne. It is time for Europe to speed up, catch up and take the lead! We are going to need all of you to achieve this together. We count on you for Europe to shape the next digital revolution!