It is no surprise that Neelie Kroes is an advocate of Europe. After two terms as EU commissioner responsible for matters such as the digital market, Kroes, aged 75, is an enthusiastic ‘Europe believer’, even though she made some critical comments here and there during her keynote speech at Agoria’s corporate event where she immediately got down to business. With her opening remark about “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to introduce a competency test for politicians?” she quickly captured the audience’s attention. And this was just the beginning.


It is no surprise that Neelie Kroes is an advocate of Europe. After two terms as EU commissioner responsible for matters such as the digital market, Kroes, aged 75, is an enthusiastic ‘Europe believer’, even though she made some critical comments here and there during her keynote speech at Agoria’s corporate event where she immediately got down to business. With her opening remark about “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to introduce a competency test for politicians?” she quickly captured the audience’s attention. And this was just the beginning.

No alternative for leading position

“There is so much talent and so many opportunities in Europe. But can Europe innovate itself out of the lost decade?” Here, Kroes alluded to the crisis and the accompanying economic recession. Meanwhile, growth figures of Member States are back on track, but how can we beat the US, China, Japan, etc.? The answer is loud and clear: by focusing on digital innovation. This innovation doesn’t start tomorrow; it starts today. We’re at a major social crossroads with the digital transformation in sight. “We simply need to become trendsetters; there is no alternative. We must have the ambition to make the difference. Either Europe causes disruption or Europe will be disrupted.”

On the one hand, innovation can be presented step-by-step by building on what already exists. The return is less explosive, but stable. On the other hand, transforming innovation can be a real game changer. “There are enough talented Belgian entrepreneurs causing this disruption in existing industrial processes that can fundamentally change people’s lives”, Kroes explained.

Fortress Europe is rocking the boat

“Talent, technology, entrepreneurship… Europe can pride itself on a huge capital, but are we using it in the right way?” she wondered. “We’re losing ground when it comes to transforming our economy. Our high-tech sector is lagging behind countries like Japan and the US.” If we have all the right tools, then where are things going wrong? “In the short term we should focus on legislation, tax, labour market policy, and on removing various obstacles. If a start-up or a scale-up wants to get ahead, they still have to deal with completely different systems in Belgium, France, The Netherlands, Germany, etc. Reduce legislative fragmentation, remove obstacles, turn this into an advantage and prove that we aren’t ‘Fortress Europe’. Only then can we create a unified digital market.”

The underestimated potential of women

Companies come knocking and say they have problems filling all their vacancies. It’s true, a major role has been reserved for education, but it takes time. “This is why I’m making the following appeal: don’t underestimate a large part of the population that is motivated and competent to work at your companies: women”, Kroes stated clearly. For example, the German industry set up a training project for women. In one year they were given training with the certainty that they would get a qualitative job afterwards. And we also need immigrants. “Just look at Silicon Valley. It was built on people and ideas. And do you know what’s interesting? Most founders are immigrants”, she added. We need another mindset, as diversity is an absolute must. “Open you mind to all the opportunities coming your way and don’t let it put you off. Show the outside world that Europe is the best road to a successfully globalised future.