Apparently the EU Digital Single Market passes necessarily from China’s Digital Silk Road

China-Europe Investment & Connectivity Cooperation Forum_

The discourse was moderated by and old fox in Europe’s telco lobbying, Mr Luigi Gambardella, founder and President of ChinaEU. A prominent place in the panel was taken by H.E. Mark Markkula, President of Committee of the Regions. In addition, the EU was represented by Mrs Anna Krzyzanowska, Head of Unit, DG Connect at the European Commission. Finally, the Chinese ICT sector could not have been absent from this fruitful discussion and thus Mr Victor Zhang, President of the European Public Affairs and Communications Department of Huawei Technologies and Mr Xiao Ming, President of ZTE European Region also took an important seat at the meeting.

The Road of the EU digital growth agenda paradoxically seems to necessarily pass from Beijing. This was the key take-away that came out from the third panel discussion during the China-Europe Investment & Connectivity Cooperation Forum. This one day conference took place last Monday 09 November at the Committee of Regions in Brussels.

“Digital economy and E-commerce: The Digital Silk Road & Digital Union” was the title of the third panel of the comprehensive Forum, certainly one of the most important and stimulating panel discussions made during that day. The discourse was moderated by an old fox in Europe’s EU telco lobbying, Mr Luigi Gambardella, founder and President of ChinaEU. A prominent place in the panel was taken by H.E. Markku Markkula, President of Committee of the Regions. In addition, the EU was represented by Mrs Anna Krzyzanowska, Head of Unit, DG Connect at the European Commission. Finally, the Chinese ICT sector could not have been absent from this fruitful discussion and thus Mr Victor Zhang, President of the European Public Affairs and Communications Department of Huawei Technologies and Mr Xiao Ming, President of ZTE European Region also took an important seat at this digital meeting.

The “digital” Committee of Regions

At the beginning President Markkula rushed to set immediately from the beginning the hottest agenda topics of the panel, which would be the contribution of the ICT agenda, and its relation to the Chinese factor, to Juncker’s Investment plan. Particularly, 5G was indicated by him as an area of major constructive cooperation between China and EU. Further, as the role of President Markkula is inherently intertwined with the cooperation of the European regions, he stressed how digitalisation is a key enabler for infrastructure in cities. He also explained how the smooth integration of strong high tech companies in the urban planning and management is able to sustain regional growth.

Learning from EU best practices is the key way to move forward according to Mr Markkula. The President of the European Regions aspires a creative synergy triangle between technology, society and urbanisation. Also, he did not omit to touch how he sets as priority for the modern urban ecosystem to be environmentally sustainable and also underscored that China with its recent green initiatives is able to provide added value to that in a positive way. With reference to the exponential Chinese urban growth, President Markkula said that the city of Hangzhou has a 500 thousand population increase per year. Soon the hot topic of 5G came to the forefront of the conversation and the Finnish politician said that digital connectivity should be one of the best investment destinations in the EU to “increase jobs and sustainable growth”. 5G for Mr Markkula is nonetheless a core asset in the EU Digital Single Union project that Juncker’s Commission strives to realise by the end of its mandate.

Digital Single Market passes from Beijing

Following the head of the Committee of Regions, it was time for the Commission to channel to the curious audience the position where the EU truly stands in the China-EU “digital” cooperation. Mrs Anna Krzyzanowska, Head of DG Connect began by showing her sheer admiration on the budget of the One belt One road investment strategy which reaches a total of 90 trillion dollars along the way. Moreover, she explained that Industry 4.0, the big European project for the “digital re-industrialisation” of the continent, faces two main issues currently. First, it engulfs rather small projects and thus receives small investment. Second, the competition of the traditional sectors and industry in the EU is tremendous and fierce. As the moderator added, Mr Gambardella, “there is a risk that digital will not take a big part of Juncker’s plan”.

Moreover Mrs Krzyzanowska highlighted later that digital commerce is a top priority for DG Connect currently as it aims to maximise positive impact on businesses and ideas. The EU is currently indeed looking into ways to truly dismantle digital barriers in the EU by deploying its promising Digital Single Market plan. The European bureaucrat appeared firm that the digital disruption that is taking place right at this moment in the EU will create opportunities for all. Particularly on 5G the Polish official of the European Commission pointed out that the degree of access to 5G depends on the following 6 factors: 5G standardisation process and protocols, the access to markets, the agility of the communications as distance will not matter any more, the benefits and values of the 5G projects as well as the risk assessment entailed.In addition, Mrs Krzyzanowska underlined that the digital single market is on a very good path where trust and reciprocity are well applied.

Furthermore, according to her, the DSM (Digital Single Market) has 3 pillars. First of all it is the access to online goods and services, e-commerce and enjoyment of content. Second, in DSM the ecosystem for digital network is interoperable, which means that operation in multiple countries is possible; there is a lot to do, according to Mrs Krzyzanowska, as regards the development of the networks. She emphatically stated that “nothing will happen without solid network of high speed download and upload network”.

The third pillar of the European Digital Single Market, according to the Head of DG connect is related to the growth potential of the EU/China digital synergy. If this top level official of DG connect devoted one pillar of the European DSM on the China-EU synergy, then it means that Europe is actively looking into ways to build European “digital shortcuts” on the One Belt One Road of China. Finally, it was well anticipated that the Polish eurocrat would refer to the regulatory framework of the market. Obviously, Mrs Krzyzanowska confirmed that the regulation of the digital infrastructure and platforms is of vital importance to the smooth transition to the Digital Single Market. That, as she maintained in her speech, definitely includes geo-blocking, as well as copy-right rules and framework.

Huawei’s vision

Towards the end of the panel discussion the time for the Chinese industry had come. Victor Zhang, President of European Public Affairs and Communications Department at Huawei Technologies supported that it is a necessity these days that old industries are transformed effectively into digital businesses. He informed the audience that during 2016-2020 Huawei will be investing some 100 million euros on research and innovation. He also added that almost 2000 people are employed in the EU within Huawei and thus the company is providing a great deal to the European economy. What is more, the Chinese businessman discussed how 5G is a leading project for the ICT markets in Europe and globally. At the end Mr Zhang referred to a few traditional industries that are now adopting ICT technologies to develop better products and services. The examples from the automotive sector where it is possible to have driverless cars or enhance the communication of the driver with the car or the world (wifi on board) undeniably helped the President of Huawei to make his clear case.

ZTE’s position

Last, but certainly not least, Mr Xiao Ming, President of ZTE Europe region reaffirmed the position of the second biggest Chinese ICT company as a key investor in the European ICT sector. Mr Ming went on describing the hard figure of 1000 local ZTE employees in Germany that provide added value to the company’s global turnover.  What is more, Mr Ming continued discussing how ZTE has sophisticated solutions for smart urban development that endorse substantially the smart city development in the EU. ZTE aspires to simplify the process of urban communication and infrastructure. Towards the end the President of ZTE underscored that this grand Chinese company supports strongly Juncker’s plan when it comes to broadband connectivity and is willing to do much more in that direction. Finally, Mr Ming appeared confident that the China-EU Research and Development cooperation will effectively determine Europe’s common digital future, “against main common competition like the US”.

All EU Digital roads pass from Beijing

All in all, the second panel brought a comprehensive outlook on the China-EU digital ties that hold strong and uncover fruitful synergies that will speed up the Industry 4.0 ambitious project of the EU. At the same time the commitment of the European side to substantially push forward  this “digital silk road” is bound to enable major Chinese investment funds in the European Union that seek for growth and sustainable expansion.

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