The disruption felt during the global COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a multitude of unprecedented challenges, which is forcing us all to adapt and solve new problems. See, for instance, how the world is grappling with traveling, going to school, securing business continuity. In response, ECSEL Joint Undertaking offered an online platform as its annual Symposium, to discuss these new circumstances, their dramatic impact in electronic components and systems sector (ECS), and – in particular – what ECS can do in assuring post-pandemic recovery.
As a result, over 450 European stakeholders, decision makers, industry, research and banking group representatives gathered virtually in the morning of 24th June 2020 at the fourth edition of the ECSEL JU Symposium, for the first time taking place entirely online, after three successful events held in Malta, Brussels, and Bucharest.
Under the title “Key Digital Technologies enabling European economic recovery”, the event was moderated entirely by the ECSEL JU’s Executive Director Bert de Colvenaer. The two-session event started with an inspiring speech by European Commissioner Thierry Breton, who made a strong statement about Europe’s potential to become an autonomous global player in strategic sectors, such as Artificial Intelligence or high-performance computing. However, stressed Mr Breton, to achieve digital autonomy, Europe needs to invest in the ability to manufacture our own electronic strategic components. “For the first time in a long time we see companies investing billions of euros in development of production capacity in Europe, based on technologies brought to maturity thanks to ECSEL JU.”, said Commissioner Breton.
Mr Breton’s opening words were followed by a keynote speech by Ms Maria da Graça Carvalho, Member of European Parliament, who addressed the issues of digital transformation and Europe’s digital sovereignty. Ms Carvalho tackled the extreme importance of establishing ethical and values boundaries in the process of digital transformation, which might be considered less important by some of the world leaders. “We need to make sure promising technologies, such as AI, Internet of Things, blockchain, and others, serve the best to the interest of our people.”, said MEP Carvalho. Addressing the current reality and world’s historic deployment of remote work and digital access to services, she stressed the need to achieve the Europe’s goal to become digitally autonomous: “We need to achieve digital sovereignty without giving up on our principles.”
The first session of the Symposium focused on the new post-COVID-19 challenges for Europe and its ECS industry, including the European Green Deal. This session brought together representatives from the major European industrial leaders, who discussed the state-of-play digital technologies in the continent, the new opportunities for the ECS industry, and the most strategic future investments for the sector. The speakers’ panel, featuring Jens Fabrowsky from Robert Bosch, Milan Petkovic from Philips Healthcare, Björn Ekelund from Ericsson and Stephan Neugebauer, BMW Group, tackled many other relevant topics, such as current threats to Europe’s digital sovereignty, and the optimal ways to ensure balanced strategy and a properly dimensioned budget for a quick European socio-economic recovery; they were also glad and willing to answer questions coming from the online audience.
The second session of the online Symposium was centred around re-building and strengthening European Digital Competences, and the need for a European partnership on Key Digital Technologies. The speakers were invited to share their view on how industrial policy can effectively support the European ECS value/supply chains, and what policies are needed to secure long-term investments across the continent. The prominent speakers’ panel included Victor Negrescu, Member of the European Parliament; Julie Galland from Ministry of Economy and Finance in France; Lucilla Sioli from the European Commission; Ina Schieferdecker from Federal Ministry of Education and Research; and Stefano Firpo from Intesa Sanpaolo. The speakers presented their views on key subject, including how to mobilise the financial resources supporting National and European policy measures post COVID-19.
The event was concluded by a remarkable speech by Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Research & Innovation. “Our global success will depend on the capacity to lead the development of very advanced components and make them future proof”- said the Commissioner, in the context of Europe becoming the first green continent. She stressed: “Our scientists and engineers have to embed the requirement of energy efficiency in their research and development work by design.” The Commissioner had also expressed her very convincing support to public private partnerships: “To be able to play in the global scene, Europe needs ambition, knowledge and critical mass, and the ECSEL Joint Undertaking has been an important vehicle to align the research and innovation agendas of the European Union Member States and Industry”, said Mrs Gabriel. As a result of such statements, the community has been reassured about a strong support from EU policy makers and even more committed to make the next JU as the leading European strategic initiative for focused, coordinated and competitive research and innovation activities in the ECS field.
The important closing speech, and a resounding Call to Action, was given by a well-known figure in ECSEL JU community, Ms Sabine Herlitschka, the Chair of the ECSEL JU Governing Board, as well as a CEO and a CTO of Infineon Technologies Austria. “Digital technologies are a new currency, a geopolitical strategic factor” - said Ms Herlitschka – “the COVID-19 crisis was a wake-up call, which helped us see how important they are. We all need a sense of urgency – now is the time to be bold.”
Given the magnitude of the effort required, only a risk sharing approach, like a PPP, is the way forward. A significant joint public-private investment is needed to accelerate economic recovery and sustainability while securing prioritization, synergies and alignment of policies and strategies at European, National and Regional level. A joint undertaking on KDT offers the instrument for securing global leadership, technology independence and digital sovereignty across many fields (including health), enabling creation of growth, jobs and additional economic opportunities at all levels within the EU.