Member of the European Parliament of Greece’s KINAL and Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on the Future of Technology and Science (STOA), Eva Kaili, has worked hard to promote technology and knowledge around it in the EU, and is perhaps the most competent to talk about these issues.
Mrs Kailis, you are chair of the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA). First of all, can you tell us about the responsibilities of the committee? What issues are high on your agenda for the coming years?
The Committee aims to provide MEPs with expert scientific knowledge and alternatives to all the technologies that will have an impact on our societies. An example is 5G technology. STOA has undertaken an objective investigation on whether there are implications for human health and evaluate all scientific aspects – positive and negative – so that MEPs have data in their hands before deciding to legislate on the subject. The priorities of STOA are artificial intelligence, the development of smart cities, biotechnology and bioethics and certainly the creation of a ethical framework of rules for the protection of sensitive personal data of citizens, new technologies in energy, etc.
Is there a long-term plan by the EU for the digital Europe of the future, through programs, new regulations and funding? How will all technologies pass into our daily lives?
There is a coherent package of around 15 regulations in the field of data, AI, Blockchain, Cryptoassets, cybersecurity, Fintech, etc., to be put to the vote in 2021. Europe aspires to become the world leader in these technologies and operates within a very systematic way in an environment where both China and the US do not necessarily act as our partners. At this stage, coordination with Member States is needed so that they can quickly adopt regulations and put them on the market.
A typical example is that, although there are complete regulations for the operation of Fintech in Europe, in Greece there is no direct application of the regulations, with the result that citizens have no alternative and banks overcharge services that in other Member States are zero costs.
How will Europe deal with the “invasion” of China and the United States in advanced technologies and AI?
China and the US’ attack on AI is mainly due to the fact that these countries have a completely different perception of Europe from us regarding the protection of citizens’ personal data. In China’s authoritarian regime there is not even data protection legislation, while in America it is quite relaxed. The US, as we know, excels in large technology companies, with a global lead in innovation, as it is a single market and with access to large capital, even for high-risk companies. In Europe, unfortunately, we do not have some big names to compete with. Achieving a single digital market requires even greater speeds in the implementation of new regulations and harmonization between them. The big EU contribution to this, however, will certainly be the production of research, which is supported by strong European funding and of course the ethical framework of rules, which can become the basis for global quality standards in the use of AI. The GDPR is already being discussed worldwide as a benchmark for protecting the digital rights of EU citizens.
You were the rapporteur for the Crowdfunding Regulation, which was adopted by a large majority of the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic Affairs. Why was his vote a significant success?
It is a strategically key regulation, especially for our country that has a failed banking system and an almost non-existent VC market, mainly in very early stage financing. If you have a project and need funding, you can post your proposal on a crowdfunding platform, now in any EU Member State, and claim up to €5 million a year, either in the form of a loan or equity. At first the idea was to have funding in the early stages, but, given Europe’s inherent weaknesses in funding innovative Startups, we extended the regulation to help scaleups as well. But a dose of extroversion is also needed from the business environment. An example is for all companies to have the three main sheets of their financial data in English,
Many foreign analysts believe that Europe lags behind the US in terms of startups due to fewer financial tools, and at the same time, more difficulty in accessing them. How can this problem be addressed?
Europe’s problem is different. We have great startups, great technology, great knowledge and great potential, but there is no mature private equity market. In northern European countries, there is plenty in the early stage, but beyond that nothing. Secondary funding (which do not go directly to the company and come from third-party shareholders) are virtually non-existent in Europe.
That is why every successful European endeavor goes to America. On the other hand, in Southern Europe, although financing in the early stages has been largely corrected, and with the participation of the European Investment Fund programs, the main problem now is the inability to find the first 20,000-30,000 euros.
From your participation in committees and international forums you have formed a comprehensive view of the evolution and possibilities of artificial intelligence, as well as the ethical issues associated with it. Are you in favor of EU legislation on artificial intelligence?
Already as rapporteur for the Social Democrats, the European Parliament’s first report on artificial intelligence, voted by a large majority in 2019, laid the foundations for the creation of this ethical framework of rules.
Last year you asked the European Commission a question about possible “complications” from the implementation of the GDPR, such as the obstruction of the development of artificial intelligence (AI) in Europe by domestic companies. Are you still worried about this issue?
No, I’m not worried, because I’m sure that MEPs, the committee and the council will find the golden section that will allow comprehensive protection for citizens while developing research and innovation for AI. We now know very well that even due to competition with the US and China, we cannot be absolute. However, as far as I have been informed, the committee intends to take into account the legislation depending on the field of application of the AI, but also on the uses. For example, more emphasis will be placed on AI applications in the field of health or transportation, and other stricter rules will be adopted for autonomous weapons.
You have dealt extensively in recent years as an MEP and member of the Special Committee on tax ruling decisions and other similar measures. What is your opinion on the taxation of digital giants?
The process of taxing digital services has entered a new phase as Europe has finally understood what I have been talking about for many years now: the need for tax harmonization and not just cooperation. The issue of digital taxation is one of the main priorities of the European Parliament and it is crucial to emphasize that taxation must be done where profit is made. It must neither be transferred nor rendered. My suggestion is that the revenue generated by digital giants go to a common European fund, which will financially support digital development and innovation development actions at an EU level. We must say that they are not necessarily illegal and that does not make it easier for us to change culture and demand fair taxation where the profit is made. It is illegal for them not to be notified to all Member States by the state that creates them, such as the case of LuxLeaks. In any case, the next two years are crucial for the completion of a framework for joint European action on digital taxation.
Do you share the view that Blockchain is a subversive technology? What opportunities and possibilities does Blockchain technology offer?
It greatly changes the way we perceive the role of “trusted third parties” in the value of blockchains. This is often called “mediation”, ie moving all intermediaries out of the market. As technology matures rapidly, we will see significant market changes in areas such as banking and finance, power grids, the transfer of mobile and real estate, the execution of automated smart contracts, the securing of intellectual property, international trade, the quality of materials of origin, our digital identity and certificates, but also in hundreds of other areas.
What do you think about digital currencies or cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin?
I believe that their role will be catalytic in tackling financial foreclosures and improving the payment process. Cryptocurrencies are a technological development of money and solve a very basic problem: unlike paper or digital currency, cryptocurrency can be encrypted in a smart contract. This possibility can allow us to move to a different level of connectivity, where the exchange of value will not only be a process between people, but also between people and machines or machines between themselves.
The irreversible recording of transactions can ensure, without intermediaries, the implementation of the agreements, achieving security, speed, cost reduction and transnational transactions with much greater ease, but also complete control of our savings without an ECB being able to extinguish the savings of a lifetime, because some have failed to protect the bank from wrong decisions or overexposure to high-risk investments. And there are many more benefits to being able to digitize assets and securities products.
Can Greece become the next “success story” of Europe?
Maybe if it wants. Whether a country will become a “success story” in the field of new technologies is a matter of decision. You do not need to be a big country, or too rich, or geographically favored. You just have to be more proactive with the help you render towards other people. I believe that Greece has all the tools to become a strong pillar of innovation, but I will repeat that the decision to implement a project requires a mentality and a perception that is not clear in our country. The first steps have certainly been taken with the Ministry of Digital Technology, but this is only the first step. As for success, all the structures of the country, public and private, must be occupied by the vision of innovation.
This is a translation of an interview conducted by Emea.