For Secretary of State for Digital Technology Cedric Oh and economists Eli Cohen and Sylvie Matelli, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic underscore Europe’s awakening to sovereignty in a new sense.
War in Ukraine, accelerator
Sylvie Matelli: With the war in Ukraine, the idea of sovereignty took a step forward. But the revival has already begun. In 2016, after Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, we began to see the concept of strategic autonomy enter European texts and talk about defense. Then, with the Covid-19 pandemic, we realized that the issue of sovereignty is much broader. I remember the speech of the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on March 23, 2020, in which she called on all European countries to impose controls on foreign investment. In a single market where one of the pillars is the free movement of capital, this is striking.
Elijah Cohen: While we celebrated interdependence just before the pandemic, we began to fear addiction. And see it as a source of vulnerability. Even before the war in Ukraine, the European Commissioner in charge of the internal market, Thierry Breton, mobilized to scan all industries and identify vulnerabilities for health sovereignty. The topic of sovereignty has long been a subject of ridicule in Brussels, it has become a painful topic. What was theoretical for a long time is starting to become a reality.
Cedric O: The first trigger was the election of Donald Trump, who, in part, said: “Syria is your area, not mine. » This change in the size of the shield of the American big brother changed the position of the Germans, who began to use the word “sovereignty”. The second element is the belated realization of the loss of economic, democratic and political sovereignty associated with the emergence of American and Chinese digital champions. The war in Ukraine creates acceleration and cooperation. Last week I was at a meeting with my European colleagues. Physically, you feel that the war is on the threshold of Europe. You feel much closer to the eastern countries. It will be necessary to see what this gives in dynamics with the United States: we compete with them, but in the minds of the Eastern countries, on the day when the Russians are on their doorstep, it is the States of the state that guarantee security. That is why we insist on a European response. Otherwise, the war in Ukraine may lead to the “reatlantization” of some EU countries.
From sovereignty to “sustainability”
CE We touch on three main dimensions of sovereignty: in the geopolitical dimension, we see the revolution of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, which in a few weeks has changed, recognizing that the EU is supplying weapons to Ukraine and promising to increase defense budgets. The second dimension is industrial sovereignty. In France, when we talk about resettlement, the answer is deglobalization, reindustrialization… But that doesn’t make much sense. No one is going to dismantle factories in Morocco in order to rebuild them in France. The answer lies in the so-called “resilience” strategy. For every problem, we must first diversify our supply sources so as not to be too dependent on China or India for paracetamol or Taiwan for electronic components. Then you need to increase stocks. And finally, the movement of certain components of the value chain. It was here that Europe took possession of the instrument of “an important project of common European interest.” [PIIEC]in batteries, microprocessors, cloud hosting, hydrogen, mobility…
SO We pay for this with words if we think that we will restore our sovereignty without making the necessary economic efforts. This is mathematics. Europe preferred its social system to investments in industry and technology. Today we spend just over 2.2% of our GDP on research and development, Koreans earn 5%, Germans aim for 3.5%. Sovereignty is a point of arrival, not a point of departure.
The Problem of Digital Addictions
SO As a French and European minister, my dream is to bring out cloud players as powerful as the Americans. But their technological capabilities are superior to ours. We are suffering. If tomorrow I forbid large French companies from using American suppliers, they will answer me: “You’re crazy. It’s going to be a loss of competitiveness of 10%, 15% or 20%.” As for the vaccination campaign, Doctolib wouldn’t have taken off so quickly if it wasn’t for Amazon to host its data. The solution can only appear in the long term. We must support our actors. And technological revolutions follow each other so fast that you can jump back over the steps. For example, edge computing, which consists in distributing computations as close to applications as possible may be a chance.
CM In France, we often have a somewhat outdated idea of sovereignty. Since we considered ourselves sovereign, there has been globalization and the growth of digital technologies… European PIIEC projects are interesting in this regard: perhaps this is the beginning of something that could look like an American example of large-scale financial support. , on government orders from the administration, to companies such as Space X, the space-based construction company founded by Elon Musk.
CE Before this crisis in Ukraine, the big problem in the restructuring of the world economy was the Sino-American dispute. This leads to a rethinking of production chains and dependencies. This entails a re-verticalization on a regional basis. Each region is trying to master critical components. And perhaps we are moving not into a technologically and industrially bipolar world, but into a tripolar one. We find that Russia, both through international boycott and pre-emptive measures to restore its autonomy, is in the process of developing vertical channels. For a very long time, we took the idea of interdependence for granted and a major driver of our economic growth. But the news entails a reorientation towards two, and even three large blocks on the planet.
SO I remain optimistic. France has extraordinary assets. Its infrastructure, its quality of life and the quality of its training. In digital technologies, the quality of computer science and mathematics is exceptional. But until now, we have exported our talents en masse, which in France did not have the opportunity to open up as in the United States. He is changing. Therefore, I am optimistic about our trade deficit, which is only the end point of our industrial potential. Now we are very far from achieving. We must continue our efforts.