We need a European Tech Deal

By Anna Christmann (Member of the German Parliament, Alliance 90/The Greens) and Sergey Lagodinsky (Member of the European Parliament, Alliance 90/The Greens)

Everyone knows the European Green Deal. It is a European brand. The European Union is ambitious when it comes to climate protection, and we can be proud of this pioneering role. And it remains the right thing to do, especially in times of crisis and war. After all, the Green Deal is the European allusion to the New Deal to successfully set up the transformation of the economy through ambitious climate protection. It is therefore the way out of the crisis and the means to position Europe as a relevant and sustainable economic player.

However, if we look at the geopolitical situation, the Green Deal alone will not be enough. Europe must assert its important position in the international community even more strongly in the areas of technology and innovation. And not instead of, but as a crucial complement to the Green Deal. The next logical step alongside the European Green Deal is therefore a European Tech Deal.

With a European Tech Deal, we can initiate a change in Europe’s attitude towards technology and spark a new dynamic for an innovative continent. Europe has long benefited from strong industry, but this has essentially been based on fossil fuels. The industrial revolution and the steam engine have made our continent historically successful and led to prosperity in Germany and other countries. The new industrial revolution is the successful development of a climate-neutral economy, also within the framework of the Green Deal. However, this urgently requires developing technologies in which Europe is not yet a leader, but in which other parts of the world, and by no means just democracies, are ahead.

However, the link to the Green Deal is only one side of the coin. The protection of civil rights and our democracy – in short, a free society – also depends on our own ability to shape technology and digitalization. Hybrid warfare in cyberspace has long been a serious threat to our society. Fake news and disinformation can undermine elections and fundamentally threaten the basis of democracy. However, the answer cannot be technological skepticism, but rather the belief that democracies must be locations with a strong technological innovation base that successfully counter such risks and protect common values.

So, what could a European Tech Deal look like? We need the ambition to become the most attractive continent for international talent and to make it easy for them to work, research and set up companies here. We need to strengthen beacons in the international research landscape, mobilize private capital for research and development in Europe and attract growth capital for companies to Europe. And we need to create experimental spaces and sandboxes in which new technologies can be tested and applied. This applies to basic digital technologies such as artificial intelligence as well as biotechnology, space, quantum technologies, new energy solutions and other fields of technology. Speed is of the essence. Where time is more important than money in other parts of the world, European and German processes are often too slow. The principle that “time is money” also applies to “time is innovation”.

The European Innovation Council (EIC) has already developed new instruments in recent years to support young tech companies. In Germany, we have made progress by strengthening the Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation SPRIND and with the latest funds for more venture capital. With the IPCEI projects, important steps have been taken in the field of microelectronics and the hydrogen economy, and the EU has also undertaken efforts to strengthen high performance computing. However, these individual measures are not enough. European activities for a strong tech location must be bundled, significantly strengthened, and made visible to have the necessary impact.

In scientific research, the European universities already now join forces and promote the European integration of scientific fields. However, this does not go far enough, as no internationally renowned technology centers have yet emerged from them. With CERN as a particle physics laboratory, a top location has been established in Europe that attracts researchers. Such a model could be transferred to other fields of technology. With EMBL in biotechnology or ELLIS in the field of artificial intelligence, there are approaches in various fields of technology that could gain relevance and visibility by being bundled under a Tech Deal. Horizon Europe, the world’s most successful research program, should be systematically considered in this strategy. To put strong research into practice, we must achieve a strategic alignment of government procurement contracts, a mobilization of public investment and a dynamization of private investment capital in Europe.

A European Start-Up strategy could bundle important measures for young companies within a Tech Deal. The goal of mobilizing more venture capital and attracting it to Europe is already being pursued. The European Tech Champions Initiative has brought together almost four billion euros in venture capital from several European countries – including Germany as a co-initiator. The aim is to build up large funds that invest relevant sums in European Start-Ups. This path must be continued to give Start-Ups and Scale-Ups in Europe the prospect of being able to generate sufficient capital even in the late phase of founding a company. Existing capital from pension funds and from insurers must be mobilized for this purpose.

After all, young companies, the majority of which are dedicated to the challenges of our time, are a key part of the technology ecosystem. We know from surveys, at least for Germany, that most founders are committed to sustainability issues and that over a third of Start-Ups explicitly develop green products in the pursuit of reducing climate-damaging emissions. They are also key drivers in the rapid implementation of digital technologies. We need to leverage this potential across Europe and show that Europe, with its very good living conditions and relevant customers in industry and SMEs, is also an excellent location for Start-Ups.

In addition to the expansion of available venture capital, the further development of the European single market is key. It must become easier for companies to quickly gain a foothold in the entire European market. This also means that when the European legislator adopts regulations, these must be standardized throughout Europe, implemented non-bureaucratically for the respective sectors and developed in a practical manner. Duplication with existing regulations should be avoided and implementation should be fully digitalized.

The various digital acts of recent years have created a legal framework that now needs to be filled with life. The AI Act already includes the basis for real-world laboratories for technology testing, while the Data Act offers new opportunities to use data for innovation in line with European data protection. These opportunities must not remain theoretical but must lead to concrete innovations “made in Europe”.

Finally, the EU can and should make greater use of its role as a major institutional customer to procure new products and thus accelerate the path from prototype to industrialization. A procurement package for innovative technologies by the EU Commission could trigger a major dynamic. Legal instruments such as innovation partnerships already exist, in which the contracting authority assumes part of the development risk, but ultimately buys the final product. Customers are often more important for young companies than funding, and public procurement can make a decisive contribution as a reliable customer.

Precisely because we want to safeguard European values and promote the protection of civil and human rights worldwide, it is our duty as a hub for innovation to help shape technologies with our own expertise and strong players. The EU will have to combine both technological and geopolitical goals. Our digital sovereignty and economic competitiveness are therefore crucial.

Europe has come a long way with the European Green Deal, and we can also succeed with a European Tech Deal. The goal must be an ambitious process in which the ideas proposed here are tackled together, but also others are identified and implemented. We must focus on all measures that contribute to the goal of a strong innovation and technology base and send a clear signal to the world that Europe is capable of technological innovation.  

It is imperative that we ourselves strengthen the EU to contribute to innovation and new technologies. This way we can show: technological innovation and democracy belong together, just like technology and climate protection. Only if we succeed in tackling these challenges in these difficult times will we be globally relevant and be able to help shape the rules of this world.