If there is a key phrase of this historical phase in Europe that is not linked to the pandemic, it is certainly technological sovereignty, sister ofstrategic autonomy theorized by Macron. Both daughters of the Trumpian era: a continent disoriented byAmerica First it has tried to build a third way in the fields of innovation and defense. Now that there is a new president in the White House, strategic autonomy will remain above all a French dream, especially after Blinken’s speech to NATO and Biden’s foray to the European Council, signals that Washington wants to re-establish a solid Euro-Atlantic axis.

The other sister, on the other hand, seems to be more lively than ever, also thanks to the deployment of leading figures. There is an intense correspondence between heads of government (first all women and then all men) and the European Commission, we have the compass of Ursula von der Leyen, the samples of Thierry breton, the editorials by Vestager and Borrell, and most recently the “intolerable digital subjection”Complained by Mario Draghi to the Chamber.

But what does technological sovereignty mean? Let’s start with the second word: the main sectors in which Europe, also due to Covid-19, has “discovered” that it is dramatically behind the United States and Asia are innovation green, the pharmaceutical and telecommunications industries. We asked about the latter Franco Bernabè, a career at the top of multinationals (Fiat, Eni, Telecom, Cellnex) and founder of the FB Group.

I begin by asking you just this: what do we mean by sovereignty?

No, sorry, you have to tell me what it means to be sovereign, autonomous or independent in technology, because I, observing reality and not an imaginary world, cannot understand it.

It means building a technological apparatus capable of comparing itself with that of the USA, China and Russia, as stated in the joint statement last December, which aims to produce at least 20% of semiconductors globally.

Then I will definitely be a outlier, but I doubt that these goals can be achieved by decree. As long as the European Union remains as it is, it will not be able to make up for lost ground. The motifs are very complex and layered over time.

Let’s start from the beginning.

The first and simplest reason is that Europe does not have the military and intelligence apparatus of the other superpowers. It is the sectors that give the impetus to technological development, and the resources that European countries dedicate to them are immeasurably lower. Truly incomparable. Obviously, this could change in the future, but at the moment I don’t see any political, economic or strategic integration plan on the horizon, to be accompanied by mammoth investments.

Is it just a question of money?

No, there is also a profound cultural diversity that prevents us from getting to where others are today. An anecdote comes to mind that I find extraordinarily effective. We were at the congress of Internet Engineering Task Force in 1992, the year in which two different protocols for the emerging web were opposed – and it was a very hard battle. On the one hand, the Tcp / ip protocol, developed in the United States, on the other hand, the set of Iso / Osi protocols, supported by the European Community, by telecommunications companies, and even by a large number of Americans who believed that it would prevail. Yet one of the participants said a very simple sentence, and that is enough to understand how it ended. “The Tcp method is descriptive. The ISO method is prescriptive “. And, he concluded maliciously, “one is suited to technology, the other to theology”.

Bureaucracy versus scientific (and inventive) method. Has anything changed since then?

Not much. In the intervention by Vestager and Borrell published in the Sole 24 Ore technology continues to be confused with good feelings. Mind you, I recognize myself more in the values ​​enunciated by the European commissioners than in those of Silicon Valley or, needless to say, in the Chinese ones. But digital leaps arise from the needs of secret agents and soldiers. Only after having used hundreds of billions (public) certain tools have found application in the civil field.

Without the state, be it American or Chinese, we would not be where we are now. So the Europeans are not off track in their “dirigiste” endeavor, are they?

It says Peter Thiel, founder of eBay and early investor in Facebook, which in his book writes “I will never invest where there is perfect competition, because in such a scenario no profits are made”. The development of Silicon Valley was born on the shoulders of monopolies. Instead here in Europe, where technological monopolies have not been made, now we are talking about competition, privacy, interoperability. Perfect recipes for non develop technology. This is why I fear that the Old Continent will never get close to the levels of the tech superpowers.

But is there anything Europe can bring to the table of global value chains?

In terms of intelligence, we have nothing to envy to the United States and China, which also have more advanced educational systems. It is the bureaucratic and legal infrastructure that prevents innovation. As we speak, plans are being made outside of Europe autonomous combat systems, weapons managed by artificial intelligence, whose patents will very soon be the basis of innovations in the civil field. But don’t think the United States is immune from mistakes.

Where did they go wrong?

Remember Moore’s Law? That for which the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years, while the cost of computers is halved. By now we have reached such orders of magnitude that it is no longer valid, but its conceptual importance remains: everything that surrounds us starts from the development of semiconductors. Yet the Americans have let the main producers in the world become the Taiwanese, on an island 100 miles from China. All to save a few billion, while now they have a possibly unsolvable geopolitical problem in their hands and will have to spend ten times as much to bring home shares of supply chain.

In short, is digital sovereignty impossible?

Oh no, it’s very possible. Just turn up a great firewall like China. Take the 20-30 access points, block them and build a European intranet without Google, Facebook, Amazon. Then there would be the detail of creating successful search engines, social networks, commercial distribution models. I don’t know if we would be able to, first of all we should massively subsidize our value chains. But so far we have been mainly able to subsidize the Chinese ones.

Are you talking about photovoltaics and electric vehicles?

Exact. On the one hand, Europe says we must be autonomous from the others, on the other it announces that in 2030 vehicles with internal combustion engines will no longer have to circulate. And who produces practically all the solar panels and batteries in the world today? The China. With the photovoltaic incentives we have enriched Chinese producers allowing them to achieve economies of scale that were unthinkable until a few years ago. All while we were causing the value of the engines developed in Europe to collapse, even if – for example – a latest generation diesel car (if we take the cycle that goes from production to the disposal of individual parts) pollutes as much as an electric vehicle, given that at least for now, many Chinese battery factories run on electricity produced from coal.

Does Europe lack pragmatism?

We have a mechanical and bureaucratic idea of ​​the processes, luckily Draghi has arrived, who is the anti-ideological par excellence.

The road is therefore not a creation of an unlikely “third pole” but a stronger alliance with the United States, which shares our democratic values ​​and principles.

Absolutely. There is no real alternative, and luckily even the US has understood that having made the “champions” grow in an uncontrolled way can stifle innovation in the long run. The Democratic Party, which in the Clinton years changed the legislative framework and allowed Big Tech to become unstoppable, is now addressing the issue of reforms, in a definitely more “European” key. So it can be said that there is also our contribution, in terms of privacy, data management and competition.

Let’s close by talking about 5G. A field in which an attempt is being made to “slow down” an evolution that is too dependent on Chinese technologies.

Rather than focusing on this or that company to escape Chinese domination, a viable path seems to me to be that of the Open-RAN, which is coherent with the idea of ​​the European commissioners: an open system developed in coordination with the states. But a cybersecurity problem remains, because open systems often do not guarantee the same security as closed ones, as their main hubs are, by definition, accessible to anyone. On paper it is a very interesting speech, but we have to see who will have the incentive to develop a system that does not generate large profits and that “belongs to no one”.

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