Opinion: Europe, A Sleeping Beauty

Europe needs to understand that it is useless to regulate — or continue to be a champion of morality — without mastering its own economic power.

Apr 25, 2023 | By Michel Santi

There is much to be shocked by the near economic disappearance of Europe. The “acceleration of the European economy” mentioned by Emmanuel Macron in China this April is a tale that no longer comforts or deceives anyone. Readers, our first electric car will most likely be Chinese, as China has now surpassed Germany as the world’s second-largest exporter of vehicles. This continent invented the car and is now reduced to importing its electric vehicles. It has become a significant consumer. What a sudden decline for Europe, which during its heydays exported many cars to China and outperformed others in terms of equipment industries — however, it did not see the end of the combustion engine coming.

Europe will soon be downgraded even in a field where they were champions, namely that of heavy transport. As part of his trip to China, the French President has accepted to double the local production of Airbus, thus offering the Chinese ample opportunities to appropriate the technology to outperform the Europeans. Case in point: Siemens made available to the Chinese its high-speed train technology. Similarly, Kuka Robotics, the world-renowned German industrial robotics flagship, was slowly eaten away by Chinese shareholders who started at 5.4 per cent in 2016 and are now at 95 per cent.

It would not be very smart to think that the Chinese will refrain from advancing their technological capabilities when the Europeans are profit driven. This, of course, is detrimental to the latter’s technological sustainability in the long term. Those who have kept themselves abreast of this change would have predicted such moves by the Chinese. The objectives were clearly defined as early as 2018 in the “Made in China 2025” roadmap, which is “an initiative aimed at securing China’s position as a global power in high-tech industries. The goal is to reduce China’s dependence on imported foreign technology and to invest massively in its own innovations in order to create Chinese companies capable of competing both in the national and global markets”.

This is why German’s industrial engine is now doubled by China, and this occurs while its neighbours are pitifully closing all of its nuclear power plants in the midst of a global energy crisis. Another point to note is Germany’s trade deficit with China in 2022, at €85 billion, was the highest ever recorded. Furthermore, after the country’s sanctions against Russia, it was the first European economy to be paralyzed. Thus, it is increasingly dependent on the Chinese market for survival.

Europe, whose GDP was roughly equivalent to that of the United States in the early 1980s, has since fallen far behind. It was also overtaken by China in 2020. It is as if the continent has unilaterally chosen to abandon developing its technologies when it could have become equals with the Americans — it does not lack the brains. From the outset, Europe saw the rapid advances as threats that had to be regulated rather than economic opportunities. Europe’s vision of progress is primarily problematic: It legislates, issues directives and regulations, while others invent and produce.

Following this train of thought, it is unsurprising to note Europe’s near invisibility in Artificial Intelligence. It is neither anecdotal nor revealing that Italy and soon France are banning ChatGPT. How will Europe be moving forward; how can the continent continue to be competitive on a universal scale when it considers these areas to be threats? Europe needs to understand that it is useless to regulate — or continue to be a champion of morality — without mastering its economic power. This continent, which is lagging in almost every industry and technological sector, is not actually seeking to become a superpower. Its ambition lies in maintaining a high quality of life and not meddling in crises that are not its own.

Michel Santi

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