Ursula von der Leyen Hopes for a European “Digital Decade”

Ursula von der Leyen

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that Europe possesses incredible potential to be a global leader in the next wave of digital transformation.

President Ursula von der Leyen, who referred to herself as a “tech optimist,” was giving a keynote address during 100,000-attendee online conference Web Summit.

In her speech, the Commission president touted the power of the European tech sector, explaining that the continent has the largest number of top AI researchers anywhere in the world, and more software developers than in the United States.

She also called the pandemic a catalyst and accelerator for changes that have been in the works for some time, especially in venture capital.

“Europe is attracting more capital for startups at seed stage than any other region in the world,” von der Leyen said. “In the last five years, the value of European tech companies has quadrupled.”

Despite all of these strides, though, she said Europe is “punching below its weight” because of a number of obstacles that competitors in other parts of the world don’t face: gaps in infrastructure, regulatory complexity, and bureaucratic barriers when trying to scale up beyond national borders.

“As a result, too many European start-up’s have left our shores in order to grow,” von der Leyen added.

She went on to say that in order to combat this, the European Commission will invest in a recovery plan called Next Generation EU worth €750 billion, with 20 percent going toward digital investments.

It will promote common data spaces to foster industry collaboration and innovation around data.

She also announced that the Commission would be “rewriting the rule book for our digital market” so that what is illegal offline will be illegal online, from selling unsafe products to spreading hate speech.

“No one expects all digital platforms to check all the user content that they host. This would be a threat to everyone’s freedom to speak their mind,” she said. “If illegal content is notified by the competent national authorities, it must be taken down.”

The largest social media platforms must have greater scrutiny and responsibility, Von Der Leyen continued during the Web Summit speech: “With greater power and social influence should come greater responsibility. A responsibility not just to act when notified but also a responsibility to assess the risks of their advertising system or their content moderation. A responsibility about how those systems work. A responsibility to accept scrutiny and audit.”

The Commission president announced that there will be one set of core digital rules across Europe, which will be changed through the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act. “The European single market must also function in the digital world,” she said.