Digitalisation trailblazers – unite!

Finland currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU. Prior to Finland, it was held by Romania, and Finland will pass on the presidency to Croatia. Finland differs significantly from these two other countries with regard to technological development. On almost any scale, Finland and Finns are far ahead of Romania and Croatia when it comes to digitalisation. Significant differences in levels of digital development are one of the challenges facing the EU.

Despite general support for the idea, no concrete efforts have yet been made to create a centre of technological development and innovation, the EU’s answer to Silicon Valley. And when you don’t create something of your own, the temptation to obstruct others’ business grows. Meanwhile, protectionist economic policies are gaining support in many member states, and the pressure and desire to regulate non-EU actors and the digital economy is increasing.

Preparations for the introduction of digital taxation in the EU were a frightening example of how unfinished matters can be taken forward without assessing their impact. At first, the proposal for revenue-based digital taxation was narrowed to apply only to electronic marketing, and then it failed completely. Digital taxation is such a significant project that it should be created with great consideration and with maximum mutual understanding on a global level. Broad shoulders, such as those of the OECD, are required to bear it.

Preparations for a copyright directive were also unsuccessful. The aim was to harmonise copyright legislation in EU countries, but key projects all aimed at limiting the operations of American platforms. Finland’s strong gaming industry, for example, is concerned about the impact of the directive. Alongside videos and music, video games have rapidly become key content on digital distribution platforms and streaming services, which has turned the platforms into significant marketing channels for games.

Supporters of the directive imagine a scenario in which European consumers primarily use social media channels designed and created in the EU. It’s great, if and when development brings European alternatives to the market, but will the copyright directive encourage or obstruct such development? Finland joined many other member states in objecting to the proposed copyright directive, which unfortunately was ultimately approved.

Instead of adopting a protectionist attitude, the EU should promote and legislatively direct matters in which Europe can be a trailblazer. The sluggishness of digital development in the EU overall is frustrating. Trailblazing countries must actively build an operating environment in the EU where innovation hubs crop up. Significant investment at the EU level is required for competence and research.

The EU must find common ground rules for greater AI ethics and increasing the management of its own data. Trailblazing countries, such as Finland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, must take a leading role and ensure that the EU’s digital development does not progress at the rate of the slowest or most protectionist member state. Digital policy desperately requires strategic leadership in order to avoid projects like the copyright directive and digital taxation chaos during the new commission.