EU Council

International organisations helping European economies bounce back

Economic transition into the “new normal”! How can international organisations help European economies bounce back? There was a webinar organised by The Brussels Times, with the support of Huawei. The event was jointly hosted by Dan Sobovitz, Digital Storyteller, Founder of spreadable.io, and Pauline Bock, Journalist.

Nada Sirotić, Chairperson of Research Working Group of the EU Council, Permanent Representation of Croatia to the EU said that they have organized a series of discussions across all areas.

Rebuild with ICT
Jaroslaw Ponder, Head of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Office for Europe, added that the ITU has been seeing the development of Covid-19. We are also focused on how do we meet this challenge. We need to build upon our work. Those who are affected in the later stage are also referred. The pandemic has brought on digital transformation.

We are now looking at ICT and how it can be used to improve our lives. The countries need to be also prepared. They need to have the continuation of their business. The agriculture sector is also one of the most affected. We are launching an assistance guide for building digital skills. This gap has to be closed as soon as possible. There are many groups vulnerable. The only way for them to be together is through the digital platform. We are also dedicating lot of effort to ICT access. We can’t afford so many people are getting left behind.

Bernardo Calzadilla Sarmiento, Director for Trade and Innovation, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) said that never before have we seen so much interconnectivity. We like to use our development framework. It all started from Wuhan. We are facing problems too. We migrated immediately to cyber space. We also faced cyber security. New technologies were also disrupting economies. We are looking at how we can bring in new technologies. There is no post-Covid-19. We also have to develop new business models.

Isabelle Mauro, Director of Telecommunications and Digital Communications Industry at the World Economic Forum (WEF), said that the first thing we did in end-Feb/early March was to create a Covid-19 Action platform. We have a virtual meeting every week with over 1,000 companies. Every industry took some concrete action and step. This enabled us to come together. We created the Covid Digital Response Network – track and tracing, localisation, etc. We are seeing which of these use cases can be scaled up. We are also working with ITU, GSMA, etc.

In some cases, the Internet usage rose up by 60-70% in places such as Italy and Spain. Within three weeks we came up with the call for action for the governments. We also have a 3D printing rapid Covid-19 initiative. We have worked with the software and manufacturing companies.

Abraham Liu, Chief Representative to the EU Institutions, Huawei, added that the economy is growing at three times the pace, thanks to the ICT policies. The extraordinary influence on the networks has kept us all going. Huawei has also contributed its part. We are providing solutions for telemedicine and pandemic control. We are also helping with remote education. We are providing $5 million for online learning. The importance of teleworking is also on the rise. Our AI solution is also being used. One, we are working remotely. We are also helping the industry in the pandemic.

WFH and all that!
Work from home (WFH) is a seriously discussed topic today. Isabelle Mauro said that if you are in the services industry, we can continue to work from home. Not everyone is that lucky. Twitter announced that they are not going back to work, for some time, while Google, Facebook, etc., have said that they will get back to work by the end of the year. Transport, energy, ICT can be some of the sectors that are impacted. If you are going to WFH, the capacity on the network will be affected. Also, there are over 1.2 billion children out of the classrooms. They need to be educated.

Nada Sirotić said that WFH touches us all. Member states are talking about certain issues, and you have to be physically present. We had to adopt procedures for virtual meetings.

UNIDO’s Bernardo Calzadilla Sarmiento said that with WFH, you need to also think about your health and the operational safety. We also have to look at the use of technologies. They are coming in, without any regulation. Blockchain, drones, etc. have come in. We need to have regulations in place.

What about AI?
Nada Sirotić added that in general, there have been some responses on AI. We need many solutions from AI. There is also the role of R&D for AI. First, it was diagnostics. Second, we are looking at education, psychological well-being, etc. AI, as and when it comes in, needs to tackle the socio-economic impact of the crisis. There is also a need to fight fake news, and that’s where science comes in. The EU has been blessed with a research plan where measures are being taken very fast.

Abraham Liu asked whether we all are ready? We are the technology partner to the operators. There are differences from region to region. Mobile Internet has increased majorly. In Europe, there are several operators working with content providers. This trend won’t disappear. The Internet will become much faster! 5G will be more needed, than ever. South Korea and China have benefitted by being the early adopters of 5G. We are committed to support Europe.

There may be a concern that Europe is lagging behind in AI. Bernardo Calzadilla Sarmiento said that this accelerated transformation has only become faster with Covid-19. It will now come to a new momentum. Big Data was used to managed the crisis in several cases. In Europe, there is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

And, innovation?
Jaroslaw Ponder said that we are working for so many years to engage across so many sectors. We are very excited to have ICT support new initiatives. We drew attention to new regulatory initiatives. We have to find joint approaches and innovation, eg., for education, environment, and health sectors. We have observed the interest of the stakeholders and non-stakeholders. We have to keep everything human-centric. We have to pay attention to the ICT accessibility and skill development. It will take some time and the help of stakeholders. We need to ensure the types of digital skills needed for each country. We are launching a guide book soon.

We also need to protect the young people. They are expected to be part of the digital environment. They also need to be aware of childcare protection. Those groups who are vulnerable need protection. We believe that in the coming years, there will be lot of early adopters of ICT. There will be a new generation of ICT.

Isabelle Mauro said that there is an acceleration of digital transformation. We need to look at an innovative way, to meet territories that are either less new or less known. We need to have an environment where we can regulate the technology. It should not be done harshly, so that everyone can make its use.

Bernardo Calzadilla Sarmiento added that innovation stands for re-inventing something. We need the regulatory framework. We also need to establish a Covid-19 recovery program for the industries. We have been advising companies about how to get certification, eg., for masks and respirators. More companies need to find their new niche. We need to embrace the new innovation with decisive encouragement.

New normal
So, what could be the new normal like? Will there be any new normal in the first place? Isabelle Mauro said that the new normal will be a hybrid world. Earlier, when we talked about the digital divide, we were talking about the developed vs. developing countries. The crisis has highlighted the current situation where a lot of the population across the developed countries are unconnected. If so many of them are not connected, we need to work fast. We need to rethink about the way we regulate. We also need to look at the affordability and capacity. Eg., there are 35 million unemployed in the USA. How can they get access? We need to ensure that they get access.

At this point, Abraham Liu remarked that the price difference for a data pack between the USA and Europe is variable. We are introducing a solution to Europe where we are laying cable. You can have more inclusive connectivity. Different countries are in the different states of connectivity. Africa and China are in different spaces of development. They need to learn from each other.

Working across continents — policy changes
With this crisis, there is also a need to work across continents. There are policy changes that will be probably made, over time. Isabelle Mauro, World Economic Forum, said that this is an opportunity for all regions. For Europe, this presents an amazing opportunity for doing innovation. We need to do away with the red tape, where necessary. This is the time to rethink, and give the young leaders a chance. At WEF, we have a platform for them where great minds can come together, and exchange ideas. We need to create a platform for exchanging idea for an accelerated digital transition.

UNIDO’s Bernardo Calzadilla Sarmiento said that we need confidence, collaboration and connectivity. We also need the principle of solidarity.

Who is going to build Europe?
There was also a discussion on who would be building the future networks across Europe. Jaroslaw Ponder, ITU, said that the digital world does not know borders. We will all go against this digital world, if we talk about this. The European leadership is there to take decisions. The same happens in the case of connectivity. We need much more investment.

We will need hybrid connectivity for the new services. Driving and supporting innovation and ecosystems are much more required. We are looking forward to participation from many countries in Europe. We have divides, where we need to work. We look forward to the continuation of the journey of globalization.

Nada Sirotić, EU Council added that we need an increased international co-operation on data gathering. Bernardo Calzadilla Sarmiento felt that could be an increase of state intervening. New normal should bring us to new democratic system where we can work together.

Isabelle Mauro invited everyone to have a look at the Covid-19 Action Platform. We need to ramp up on that. We are also looking at organizations who are working on connectivity. We need 5G coalition partners as well. Abraham Liu, Huawei, said that globalization has led to the accessibility of connectivity. Europe is a good example of how solidarity can make the change.

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