For our next 5 questions interview, I spoke with Eva Paunova, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Bulgaria, on her visit to AT&T’s Global Network Operations Center, the digital single market strategy, and being one of the youngest MEPs in Parliament.
Alberto: You recently visited the Global Network operation Center of AT&T. Can you share with us your impressions?
Eva: The GNOC is an impressive place – both in terms of appearance and functionality. Being the center where the company monitors the activity and performance of its global infrastructure, it gives you the opportunity to take a look into another side of the digital world – how it is maintained.
Without this central management, dropped calls, damaged lines, and lost data would be the norm. Digital life would grind to a halt. What struck me however is that engineers keep an eye not only on AT&T’s information traffic but also track numerous other indicators such as the weather, the condition of the underwater cable infrastructure that connects the continents, as well as customers’ feedback spoken over the phone or posted on the Web.
I am sure that a quick look at the gigantic screen ‘wall’ at the GNOC can convince even the biggest digitalisation sceptic that the Internet of Things is unbelievably close. People are on the network all the time — there are no big variations between day times or holidays and working days anymore. Humanity tends to already live with its computers, tablets, phones and devices 24/7.
Alberto: The Commission is working on the Digital Single Market strategy, which is as well one of your priorities: how can we get the regulatory framework right? What are the main issues that need to be addressed?
Eva: In the EU, we have a Single European market as one territory without any internal borders or other regulatory obstacles to the free movement of goods and services. Our approach to the Digital economy should be the same – tearing down regulatory walls and moving from 28 national online markets to a single one.
And we are moving in this direction. In the European Parliament we are already discussing how to facilitate cross-border portability of digital content as well as harmonise the rules for digital content sold online, for both of which I am the EPP rapporteur in the Internal market and consumer protection committee. Other main issues that to be addressed later in 2016 and 2017 include ending unnecessary geo-blocking, establishing framework for transparent, non-discriminatory online platforms, better coordinating cybersecurity measures between member states.
Alberto: The Internet of Things is revolutionizing the way we work, live and do business. Moreover, these technologies could bring enormous benefits. From a Regulatory perspective, how can we help those technologies tacking up?
Eva: While most of the startups have quickly taken up digital technologies and processes, European industry is still lagging behind in this respect. At EU level, we have some instruments to stimulate the digitalisation of European industry. For instance, we should work on creating EU wide network of digital innovation hubs, where traditional sectors like textile, steel, construction can get advised and test digital innovations. We can channel investment in large-scale public-private projects to strengthen internet of things, advanced manufacturing and technologies in smart cities, homes or cars.
Furthermore, the Internet of Things implies that billions of connected devices would communicate and interact with each other. To ensure this we need to set standards allowing devices to communicate safely and seamlessly, regardless of their manufacturer, technical details or country of origin.
Alberto: You are a strong believer in SMEs. How can Europe help them scaling up and reduce barriers for them?
Eva: If Europe is to go back on the high economic growth track, our SMEs should be the locomotives. The biggest recent EU projects such as the Investment plan of Juncker, the Digital Single Market, and the Capital Markets Union all aim to boost European SMEs.
Small and medium sized innovative enterprises now have easier access to finance because part of the investment risk is covered by the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). As of 2015, only 7% of SMEs sell cross-border, which is why establishing a Digital Single Market with harmonised rules for electronic registration, online trade and taxation is of crucial significance for the digitalisation of European SMEs, which will automatically grant them access to a market of 500 million customers.
In the EU, more than a third of the SMEs don’t get the complete financing they asked the banks for. Those that get it, do so at much higher interest rates than big businesses. That’s why in the EU we are working on creating a Capital Markets Union, which will break down barriers blocking cross-border investments in the EU to make the access to risk finance like venture capital and private equity easier for companies. This is particularly crucial for European start-ups, which I believe have the potential to make our economy highly innovative and rapidly growing.
Alberto: You are one of the youngest and most engaged MEPs. Do you think the young generation is taken into account at European level. What could we do different?
Eva: The millennial generation, the one I myself belong to, is not well represented at the EU level of policy-making. Take for instance the average age at the European Parliament – 55 years. Of course, experience and profound practical knowledge are crucial for taking the right decisions for 500 million Europeans. However, with the current economic model struggling to provide high growth and the Digital revolution spreading rapidly, the EU needs more than ever fresh bold ideas and innovative thinking.
The huge challenges that Europe faces need to be addressed with novel approaches. If we are really committed to move away from the ´business as usual´ way of doing EU politics, we must empower the new generation of leaders – the swift decision makers, transformers, with global vision and audacity to challenge the established perceptions.