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IBM Policy Lab Live: As Europe Maps Its COVID-19 Recovery, Digital Transformation Will Be Key


By Elissa Gootman

As Europe charts its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, many business and government leaders are seeking to drive economic growth through increased digitalization and the widespread use of data.

During an IBM Policy Lab Live virtual event on Sept. 2, titled “An Economic Recovery Plan for Europe,” a panel of high-level experts discussed the enormous potential of this approach, and the importance of ensuring that trust and security remain at the center.

“We have a historical opportunity based on the pandemic, on this foundation, to create a better future,” said Martin Jetter, Chaiman of IBM Europe. “It’s all centered around the trust in a country, the trust in Europe, the trust between Europe and the rest of the world. And it’s all centered around digitization, technologies and the usage of data.”

Jetter was joined by Mona Keijzer, the State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy for the Netherlands; Pilar del Castillo, a Member of the European Parliament who sits on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy; and Markus J. Beyrer, Director General of BusinessEurope, which represents European companies.

Businesses and governments alike, Jetter said, must “adopt a digital-first mentality to unleash the power of data,” leveraging artificial intelligence and open-source technologies in ways that benefit clients and citizens. By shifting workloads to the cloud, he said, players in both the commercial and public sectors can gain the “operational agility” to respond to workloads and customer or citizen demands that are constantly in flux.

“If companies, organizations, individuals did not understand the importance of digital in their everyday operations in our lives—personally as well as professionally—before COVID-19 struck, then I would certainly argue, probably we all do now,” Jetter said: “Humankind will come out of this stronger, more united and modernized, because technology at the centerpiece will ensure a better future for all of us.”

The Pandemic Has Been a “Magnifying Glass”

The future of Europe’s economy will be “absolutely determined by digital transformation,” said del Castillo, of the European Parliament. The pandemic, she said, has functioned as a magnifying glass, highlighting and accelerating the need for such transformation.

Europe’s recovery, she noted, will hinge partly on how the European Union allocates its 750 billion euro (more than $800 billion) pandemic recovery fund. “I believe that Europe’s policymakers, private stakeholders and individuals as well must take a quantitative leap in digitalizing Europe,” del Castillo said. While this need was clear to many Europeans before the pandemic, she said, “everyone can see that after the pandemic.”

Keijzer, of the Netherlands, said that as this digital transformation progresses, it will be essential for the private sector, the European Union and individual member states to find new ways of collaborating. “We can only truly work together if we have a basis of trust, if there are no hidden agendas, if we know what we can expect from each other and we deliver on our promises,” she said. “I'm certain that we all share the same goal: creating a society with excellent health care, safety and security, and freedom and democracy. That's what we're striving for together, with a key role for digital technology.”

Beyrer, of BusinessEurope, advocated for making the free flow of data across borders as easy as possible, noting, “you cannot even export an apple without transferring data.” The EU’s pandemic recovery fund allocations will be critical to Europe’s recovery, he added, saying, “There will be a lot of money available, but the core story is that this money will need to be well spent.”

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