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Post written by:

Vincent Bonneau

IDATE Lab. Business Unit Director

Europe is still not taking enough of an active role in managing the current health crisis, at a time when coordination between the various national initiatives (for buying masks, etc…)  is sorely lacking. 

There are clear parallels with the Europe’s Digital Agenda, which has been very good at setting targets and common regulations (Europe is in fact the champion of digital tech regulation, not least thanks to its General Data Protection Regulation) and to a lesser degree in financing R&D, but is too often outdone by the various, sometimes overlapping local initiatives when it comes to implementation

The process of scaling up can take several avenues, with the support of (local and regional) government, with joint procurements (hence an immediate volume discount), infrastructure sharing and/or certain targeted spending to cover the more poorly covered areas and to address the populations on the losing side of the digital divide. New types of public-private partnerships are already being developed to enable more efficient downstream project coordination, notably for future R&D projects.  

Finally, we need to remember that any discussion of digital tech can never be purely economic, as it necessarily involves social and ethical considerations as well. Opportunities for tracking mobile phones, to be able to track people infected with the virus as a way to limit its spread, is a prime example of the European stance, which is sometimes deemed too naïve: coming to grips with a technological innovation by focusing on the ethical aspects, while others are looking at the inherent business opportunities. The tracking solution that France settled on in early April 2020 is a voluntary and more technically complex one (using Bluetooth, but not compatible with all mobile phones, which may also be switched off to save the battery) than what is being used in South Korea and Israel, and would not enable large-scale processing. If the aim is to take the right precautions to avoid trampling on people’s civil liberties, here again more pragmatic avenues will be needed to ensure the ability to scale up and build an effective solution.