The magic term "technological sovereignty" | Agoria

The magic term "technological sovereignty"

Bart Steukers
Published on 15/09/21 by Sarah Godard
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, spoke about the magic term “technological sovereignty” in her "state of the union." We all talk about this in the technology sector. What we mean is that we must not become dependent on China and the United States and must be able to meet our own European needs --  Preferably not just at the European level, but also at the national, or why not, at the regional level.

But is that feasible? Does Europe have the clout, the decision-making speed, financial resources, and political unity? Perhaps not always, but Europe does have other assets on which it can draw. Europe can encourage us to look at things from a different perspective than our local angle. 

In addition, Europe offers economies of scale, can provide a great deal of expertise, can offer us smart financing models, has top universities and research institutions ... In short, Europe can build on innovation, critical mass and a great deal of talent (in which we can still take many steps forward).

From customer to co-investor

Take our energy supply, which has been the topic of much discussion in recent days. Why are our gas prices rising so much? Because we are too dependent on others for our energy supply? But hasn't it always been this way? After all, we have been importing petroleum from around the world for decades, haven't we? 
I think the difference lies in what role we play in the value chain, more than in the dependence on others... We continue to take on too much the role of 'customer' rather than ‘(co)-investor.’ Aren't we too dependent on price movements in the gas and energy markets because we import energy as a 'customer' rather than as a co-producer, even if production is abroad?

The recent price increases on the natural gas market are a worldwide phenomenon, but we feel them even more strongly in Europe because we have few gas reserves ourselves and are largely dependent on imports. The development of renewable energy production in Europe will enable us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and take greater control of our energy supply. This does not mean that we will no longer need any imports at all, however. In order to reduce CO2 emissions from our heavy industry, for example, we will need green hydrogen, and we will not be able to generate it all locally in Europe. 

Partnerships will have to be developed with those countries where renewable energy can be generated and transported most cost-efficiently. This is also an opportunity to export our European/Belgian technological innovations and talent. By co-investing, we do not simply take on the role of 'customer', but we retain some control. 

Europe can take the lead here and be assertive towards those countries that can co-invest in the generation of renewable energy for European energy supply at a manageable price. For example, several countries in Europe (such as Germany) are already concluding Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) for new hydrogen trading routes, while we are still discussing the feasibility of our energy mix of the future. 

Needless to say, we should not cooperate only with countries outside Europe. Cooperation within Europe is also crucial, especially for a small country like Belgium. This is true for renewable energy generation, but also for the technologies needed to make the green transition (such as batteries and hydrogen). Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI), as they are known, offer opportunities for member states to cooperate on projects that are of strategic importance to the European union and contribute to our technological sovereignty. We need to use the resources and investment opportunities that Europe offers wisely by making strategic choices and by being ambitious in support policies.

And as for those European resources, incidentally... the fact that our country is getting 750 million less from the European recovery pot is not bad news but good news, because this is because our economic growth is recovering more solidly than expected... so let's not complain about it!

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