The love story between the EU and European tech
The European Union is currently facing many a challenge: human emergencies such as the refugee crisis and terrorism, economic uncertainties, internal disagreements… All of this while fighting the wave of euro-skepticism that is sweeping Europe. But perhaps because of all that is going on, now is the best moment to remind ourselves why the UE is essential and why we should be fighting to make it stronger, not weaker.
The tech world is not exempt from the larger geopolitical issues that Europe is dealing with. Because of the legal and economic implications that starting a business implies, the start-up scene is very dependant on the evolution of the EU. But more importantly, there is a strong bond between the world of digital innovation and the European Union. Open-mindedness, progress, exchange and globalisation are shared values for both entities.
Therefore, they mutually support and rely on each other. And indeed, if the tech ecosystem is doing as well as it is today, it is because the EU has been a driving force behind it for decades. Essentially, what the EU is aiming at for the tech world is to overcome all the hurdles set by national borders, regulations and cultural differences to create a solid and unified start-up ecosystem to measure up to the powerful Asian and American hubs. It’s not about erasing all the differences, quite the opposite. It’s trying to connect them better, and benefit from the amazing opportunities their complementarity offers. So how exactly does the EU affect the start-up world?
The EU, between unity and division
Since its creation, the European Union has aspired to promote economic unity to make the continent a strong economic actor on the global stage. Following this logic, numerous initiatives concerning technology and innovation have been taken to make the process quicker, easier, less strenuous and encourage inter-regional exchange and collaboration.
These initiatives come under various forms, be they financial, administrative or advisory. In terms of finance, the EU is a big source of economic support for businesses, setting up programs such as the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (COSME) or Horizon 2020, that rewards innovative companies.
Legislatively speaking, the EU is invaluable in trying to reduce the nightmare that national legislations represent. Free trade and free movement of people make it so much easier for businesses to hire talents and scale up. Today, a start-up within the EU will not even ask itself what market it is targeting, it’s already obvious that right from the start it will be the whole of the EU, and not just their national market. Creating, scaling and fundraising is made easy at the European scale, giving entrepreneurs European, not to say global, aspirations.
The EU is also the champion in education. The continent has some of the best business and engineering schools in the world, and their programs are conceived to welcome International students and facilitate exchanges with other schools in Europe and the world. And as we know, businesses start at university. A European university means a European business.
So, although originally, the legal environment of the European Union countries makes it a rather hostile place to build a business, the measures that have been taken to improve connectivity and partnerships, access to finance and talents and better and simpler tax systems have made a huge difference. The EU is aware of the different needs of different regions and countries, and the policies aim at favouring all rather than just a few.
As a result, the EU has become a motor in driving the force of innovation, creating a hub in which different entities at different scale can interact with ease and become complementary. With this, the values of exchange, open-mindedness and unity are strengthened and brought to a whole new level.
Despite this, certain difficulties remain, sometimes giving the impression that the EU is more a string of connected cities than an actual hub. This is not true in every situation, and in most cases, the EU is not even responsible. The disparities are due to the fact that countries are still trying to push their own favourable legislations rather than favour a continental strategy. Europe is still a fragmented market.
This means that legislations are still fractured, and often slows the system down, especially when it comes to fundraising. Although things are changing for the best, this explains the smaller number of investments in Europe compared to the States. Investors get scared away from the process.
Another problem for Europe is the unequal access to resources and the high number of different services that cannot coordinate. For example, this is the case regarding access to 4G and 5G, or the fact that digital services are confined to national borders.
Also, despite the fact that people increasingly speak English fluently, even if it is not their mother tongue, language can in some cases form a barrier and make transactions harder.
So the conclusion is mitigated for Europe. But I think it’s safe to say that the future looks bright rather than bleak. The energy that is advocating for unity and cooperation is becoming stronger. The forces behind division and individualism are in retreat. The results of the French Presidential elections yesterday demonstrate this. French citizens proved that Europe is not a thing of the past, but something to build on, strengthen and adjust to serve the interests of all. Europe is a land of unity, that strives to bring people together and reduce inequalities. And these are tech’s aspirations and objectives as well.
The refugee crisis – an issue concerning EU that tech can help solve
It is part of human nature for people to gather rather than divide. This natural path is highly embraced and enabled by technology. Technology makes all of it possible. Borders and nationality are of little importance when it comes to technology. Everybody is seen as equal. The global community of entrepreneurs carries these values. In the start-up world, many dedicate their time and energy to spreading technology all over the world. Sharing is caring. And sharing technology with others is the technologists’ answer to global issues.
Surely the whole tech world can’t let the refugees’ crisis happen without taking action to find solutions. They won’t have the answer to everything, they won’t resolve the whole conflict, but one step at a time they will help migrants to be able to foresee a better future.
A lot has been said and will be said about this conflict. So for everyone to be on par, here is your quick catch up.
- The Arab spring turns out to be more than just a small revolution
- The story of the conflict
- This refugees’ crisis might be the first one of a long series with diverse reasons and origins
- The crisis in numbers
- The migrants’ crisis in Europe
- Managing the migrants’ crisis in the EU
- Global impacts of the crisis
These conflicts take place on our doorstep and the migrants’ crisis has been striking Europe for 2 years now. We, in Europe, can’t just let it happen without acting. The EU is willing and trying to help. But the consequences of this crisis aren’t just humanitarian, its impacts are just as much political and economical.
Europe has been struck by an unprecedented wave of terrorist attack in European history. These attacks have reinforced the rising populist movements in Europe. With the massive incoming flow of refugees, not all countries are willing to open up their borders to refugees.
European countries have agreed to legalize a certain number of refugees granting them work visas, enabling them to start their lives over. But the process remains long and painful. Neither regulators nor administrators are able to answer quickly, not even in a critical situations like this one.
A large part of the refugees are highly skilled and qualified workers, and could greatly benefit to the global European economy. However, the economical climate in Europe is still morose for a large part of the population, creating a form of resentment towards refugees being able to work and occupy position they could occupy. I am not going to expand on that but refugees should be allowed to work, no question about it!
These slow responses aren’t appropriate. They won’t solve the crisis. I don’t think there is much we can do to solve it from where we are. But we can help refugees so they are able to fight back and end the crisis.
The best answers given yet came from technology and entrepreneurs (maybe we are a little bit biased on this one, but whatever).
New movements are advocating to make things change faster, from visa to education.
- Techfugees: A global tech movement working to supply a pool of tech solutions and tech talent to NGOs working for and with refugees.
- Startupboat: A project that helps mobilising tech, business and social innovators to create solutions that change the frontline of migration.
Entrepreneurs are also able to address issues that governments can’t even begin to think about.
- From helping you get rid of parking tickets to helping migrants fill in their legal paperwork
- VR to inform about the refugees crisis
- Start-up cities: new cities built for and by refugees to provide long term answer to the crisis
- Using bitcoin to help refugees
And maybe the most important of all is that the whole tech world believes in the refugees. They are people just like you and I who have lived terrible times. They have as much talents as us, and they are the most capable to rebuild their lives and countries.
Technology and entrepreneurs are hoping to give them the tools to make it happen. With this help, refugees will be able to spark a new wave of innovation answering their needs and those of their home countries at the fullest.
To anyone wise about technology and entrepreneurs, this movement makes even more sense. Because it goes beyond our obligation to help refugees.
Entrepreneurs see opportunities where there seem to be only troubles. This situation was just a cry for help to gather some of the smartest people working together to solve what is one of the worst crises of our generation.
Making the EU even friendlier to entrepreneurs, including the refugees, will just help us being more efficient.
We are heading in the right direction, let’s hope it stays that way…
Antoine Delanglade & Béatrice Malleret