The history of the European Union has been a success story. This success can be measured in terms of peace, solidarity, and economic growth. Today, however, battered by the financial crisis, the horizon has darkened as some citizens are expressing their disaffection for the European project, in spite of the such good news that it has given us in its more than 70 years of existence.
Our world is unlike anything that we inherited after World War II. Therefore, the challenges are different. In any case, we want a Europe that pioneers a social model of economic prosperity in the world. And of course, we all ask ourselves: what is our added value in terms of economic competitiveness in a globalized world that could sketch a horizon of economic and social stability? The answer is simple and complex at the same time: innovation.
In order to be innovative, all institutions – the State, the market and civil society – must be aware that each and every one of them has to be innovative. They have to understand that innovation is not just a matter for governments or companies but for all citizens who form a society, in this case, the European Union.
First, companies need to seek ways of competing on better terms. Therefore, it is important to go beyond the traditional concept of R+D+i. For example, one way to better compete is through social innovation, i.e. generating new ideas (products, services and models) which, at the same time, meet the needs of society and develop new partnerships between these institutions.
Telefónica Group, for example, aside from having a company dedicated to R+D for over 20 years, which has contributed to the Group’s competitiveness and modernity through technological innovation, also has a policy of social innovation that helps to improve the competitiveness of those economies in which it operates. This policy of social innovation focuses on three areas: disability and ageing populations, inclusion of people who have low incomes, and increasing youth participation in society.
Another example involves investing in education. The private sector cannot overlook the training of those individuals who will make up its future work force. To do this, companies must help students understand what competitiveness is and raise their awareness about the challenges and opportunities that competitiveness offers us in a globalized world. The private sector must also promote both technical as well as social skills, develop the managerial and entrepreneurial capacity of students, and explore issues that companies are facing in a global world which includes rapidly changing careers and workplaces. Finally employers must develop an entrepreneurial spirit (a change of attitude).
Moreover, in order to be innovative, governments must remove barriers to private investment and lower costs. For this to occur, public investment has to be complementary to private investments and, under no circumstance, should compete with it. Furthermore, a clear and common regulatory framework must exist in all EU Member States. A market with an unclear and fragmented regulatory landscape in which public investment competes with private initiatives creates legal uncertainty and, therefore, discourages investment by the private sector.
Finally, civil society must also be innovative. The aforementioned entrepreneurial spirit must also take root in universities, associations and non-governmental organizations, foundations, trade unions, etc. as well as with every citizen in particular.
In this context, the telecommunications sector is a key part of “innovative Europe”. The expansion of ICTs, especially the Internet, has radically transformed our lives, individually as well as collectively. Technological innovation has given rise to a new culture, a new society, a new economy, a new way of interacting and relating to one another. In short, a new way of being and acting as citizens, and therefore a new reality.
ICTs also play a crucial role in the necessary renewal of European industry. The future is digital, so telecommunications are at the heart of the new European industrial revolution that lead us to achieve higher levels of competitiveness in the global market. Hence, European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, has reiterated at various fora that digital technology is critical for ensuring our long-term prosperity and our competitiveness. In her own words “digital industry can provide us with over 1 trillion euros in additional economic activity and create millions of jobs”.
In short, “We want a Europe” that bets on the future – a “smart” and innovative Europe. A Europe that finds its place in this globalized world through innovation.
Post written in collaboration with Paloma Villa, Telecom Policy Department, International Office, Telefónica S.A.