Dr. Volkmar Denner in the foreground with the earth seen from outer space in the background.
Denner’s view

“An update for Europe — from its less prominent member states”

A call for a new European patriotism.

6 minutes


In the internet age, Estonia and Bulgaria can be role models for Germany and France. A call for a new European patriotism by Volkmar Denner.

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It’s the small players whose innovations drive the major players before them. What’s frequently true in business is no less true in politics. Companies like Bosch can be inspired by start-ups. Similarly, we can develop a new conception of Europe. Just why is it that we always only think of France and Germany as the motor for this continent’s future growth? Why don’t we look at what Estonia is doing? Or Bulgaria? It is especially in these less prominent EU member states that Europe’s update — its digital future — is taking shape. It’s not just a question of the continent overcoming its past wars and crises. Europe has to modernize. On this subject, western and central Europeans would be well advised to look east more. They would be equally well advised to not only see problems there, but also to take inspiration from the impetuses for innovation that come from these supposedly minor players.

“Europe’s update, its digital future, is taking shape in the less prominent member states in Eastern Europe.”

Dr. Volkmar Denner, CEO Bosch

The European Union driven by the Baltics?

Close-up woman to illustrate a future scenario.

After all, Estonia is the European country that has made the most progress in digitalizing everyday life. It’s where the software for Skype was developed, where 96 percent of all tax returns are completed online, and where the electronic ID card is also a driver’s license, e-health card, and even a library card. All this cuts out red tape, as well as expense worth 2 percent of GDP, or so they claim. It’s good that Estonia is now assuming the presidency of the council of the EU. In fact, it has already sent out invitations to a digital summit at the end of September. The motor of European growth could also be in the Baltic.

The Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe

Illustration of a future scenario woman with augmented reality spectacles.

And Bulgaria? For quite a few people, it’s still a typical Warsaw Pact country. In fact, others have been calling it the Silicon Valley of eastern Europe for some time now. Its universities were teaching Java well before many others — the programming language that is so important for the internet of things. It’s no coincidence that, in the shape of ProSyst, Bosch acquired a software company there, and employs nearly 120 software engineers in the capital Sofia. And this number is set to rise significantly. When the digital future is at stake, relying on Europe’s diversity could well be worthwhile for large companies.

Diversity needs a common denominator

Yet such diversity also needs a common denominator. Admittedly, it’s one of the most hackneyed phrases in European politics that it’s no longer possible for an individual European country to exert influence in the world, and that Europe has to act as one instead. But this observation has seldom been so apt as in the internet age. The European data market is worth some 50 billion euros, but the volume of its counterpart in the U.S. is more than twice that. So there’s some catching up to do, and this means the European countries have to tear down the barriers they themselves created with their differing national regulations. Size matters, and digital business models have to be scalable — only as international models are they conceivable. This is precisely what makes a single European digital market so important. The European Commission forecasts that it will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and provide a 415-billion-euro boost for the economy. If it does come to that, we can truly say that the EU has never been as valuable as it is today.

A united Europe without digital particularism

Illustrated map with some national flags

The decisive cornerstone for this will soon be reality. From next year, the European general data protection regulation will come into force. Since it will protect the private sphere, it will strengthen the trust that is so vital for all internet business. And it will do so according to EU-wide standards. However, we can only hope that these standards are also put into practice in a standardized way. Germany has by no means led by example. Although it was the first country to pass an adaptation law on European data protection, the act alone is nearly 40 pages long, and itself contains many detailed special regulations. What does that mean for companies like Bosch? In the future, they will not only have to take European data protection law into account, but also its national peculiarities. So twice as much effort — or 28 times as much, if all countries take such a complicated approach. Digital particularism like this is the last thing Europe needs.

Inspirations from Eastern Europe

What it does need, though, is stimuli from its smaller member states, as well as competition among all its member states to offer the best infrastructure. Bitrates and broadband access are essential for the success of data-driven business models. In this competition as well, it is significant that countries such as Germany and France are at best mid-table players. At all events, during Germany’s recent federal elections, the political parties promised to make their country a data-infrastructure leader within the next decade. It seems they’ve got the message. In the future, we will have to see whether they live up to their promises. For the time being, though, Germany and France would do well to follow the example set by a country like Romania when it comes to average bitrate.

It’s the economy, stupid?

Technologically and economically, therefore, there is plenty to be done, also in the prosperous European economies. But does that mean that only data count for the continent’s future? That “it’s the economy, stupid”? Not quite. Without a European consciousness whose intensity is on a par with national consciousness, a true European union will never be achieved. German reunification was not driven solely by economic expediency. It was also politically, and above all emotionally, right. Only with such a mix of motives can the European project succeed in the future. We want not just one, but two “Europes”: a Europe that is a digital front runner, and a Europe we can identify with. Companies in particular should be European patriots.

Portrait of Bosch CEO Dr. Volkmar Denner
Dr. Volkmar Denner, CEO Bosch

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