A new narrative for Europe?

Highlights in thought leadership from the 2017 European Business Summit


The 60th Anniversary of the Treaties of Rome is a good opportunity to reflect on the future of the European Union and some of the most relevant ideas and predictions for communicators related to digital, trust, financial recovery and society. Maria Gaton Fraile, a member of the European Association of Communication Directors, attended the European Business Summit (EBS) in May to hear from experts about the direction Europe is heading in.  

Digital economy

With the European Commission estimating the digital economy could contribute €415 billion a year to the region, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, it has become a strategic imperative to harness digital innovation to deliver opportunities for individuals, businesses and communities.

Arnaud Thysen, director general of the EBS gathering in Brussels, stated:

“With digital innovation driving changes in how we live, work and play – from the fourth industrial revolution to the all-pervasive use of social media, it’s important that we think about the opportunities and challenges this new era presents”.

Due to International Data Corporation (IDC) predictions, the spending on cognitive and Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems will end up reaching $46 billion by 2020. Tata Consulting Services (TCS) unveiled an AI Report highlighting Europe’s leadership position, with an average AI and robotics investment of $80 million, more than any other region globally. Furthermore, over half saw AI as "transformative" stating it will be “important” or “highly important” to remaining competitive in 2020 and beyond.

During the Summit, the #DigitalDirections campaign was launched; acting as a catalyst for ideas, insights and debate around the crucial role technology plays in driving innovation. The campaign includes an online platform bringing together inspiring perspectives about the various paths business and government leaders are forging to navigate the digital era.

Amit Bajaj, CEO, TCS Europe, stated:

“This year Europe celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community. With digital now a byword for innovation, the #DigitalDirections campaign provides a powerful platform for public-private dialogue on this crucial topic.”

Huawei´s Western European president Vincent Pang, called for new partnerships in skills to develop the ICT ecosystem across the EU:

“Every EU business can help by working with government to train people to have digital skills and by helping universities to sow the seeds for more digital innovation. This is a unique opportunity for Europeans to lead innovation”.

Thoughts from business leaders

And what do business leaders think about Europe´s current situation? McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) launched the survey European Business: Overcoming uncertainty, strengthening recovery, drawing on the responses of 2,000 European business leaders regarding the global trends inspiring both hopes and fears. According to the survey, more than half of company leaders are positive about the effect of digitisation on their business, seeing the rise of emerging economies positively. However, between 35% and 40% of the business leaders see rising populism, geopolitical disruption, and rising inequality as having a negative impact on their business. 

Over half the companies surveyed think the EU has had a beneficial effect on their business, being the most financially successful companies the most positive. Smaller, less globalised companies tended to question the benefits of Europe and are more reticent to invest in the future. Businesses generally are supportive of the EU Commission’s policy priorities, but are less positive about the way they have been executed. Eighty-five per cent of surveyed companies say they think the EU would remain intact, and just under half anticipate that the status quo will prevail or that greater integration will take place. After Britain’s decision to leave the EU, one in three respondents say a decision by any other countries to follow suit will be negative for their business.

Jacques Bughin, MGI’s Brussels-based director said:

“After a difficult decade for the European economy and European business, it is gratifying to see confidence returning, but it remains fragile. We estimate that restored productive investment could boost the EU’s GDP by as much as €1 trillion by 2030, or cumulatively, 5.7% of GDP. To achieve that confidence boost, the EU will need to continue harnessing digitisation, while addressing lingering areas of fragility, including remaining financial risk, the direction of the Eurozone and, where possible, geopolitical concerns such as migration and populism. One way to bolster confidence in the EU would be to develop a new narrative showing that the forces in favour of cooperation are stronger than those opposing it.”

A new narrative for Europe

Isabelle Kumar, presenter of The Global Conversation on Euronews, moderating the EBS opening plenary session “A New Narrative for Europe” explained:

The high-level business leaders speakers, were keen to mark a stark difference of mood at the Summit, whereas in 2016 a sense of gloom hung over the gathering, this year a general sense of optimism prevailed, a feeling that Europe could be at a turening point. Two factors were seen to be driving this change: a new more pro-Europe political context and an improved economic outlook.

Throughout the discussion the speakers kept returning to three main points to be addressed for a successful and sustainable narrative for Europe to be established, all of which I concur with. The first was a call to action for EU leader and institutions not to fall into complacency but to capitalise on a new context of hope and optimism. Secondly, each speaker passionately called to cut regulation and red tape. Finally, there was a heartfelt plea to ensure a truly competitive Europe, for Europeans to develop the skills necessary to future proof the private sector and meet the rapidly evolving challenges of innovation”.

Regarding social aspects, discussion on migration and refugees was an engaging and popular highlight during the summit with the European Commission launching the initiative “Employers together for integration”, giving visibility to the activities put in place by employers supporting the integration of refugees and other migrants into the labour market as an opportunity for the societies.

Overall, this might suggest a way forward for Europe; focusing on the positive and what empowers and unites. What is clear is that collaboration and synergies will remain crucial for successful communication strategies.