Writer, speaker and advisor

The long way back

There is nowhere to hide from corona, apart from your living room. And this situation will not end soon.

It is Easter Monday and the streets in Brussels are deserted. Sometimes runners pass by, the occasional car makes it way on empty streets. Litter is dancing in the wind. Windows of houses display rainbows drawn by children, here and there people painted colourful signs on sheets: ‘Tous ensemble!’

This is the new normal. The corona normal. And it is not going to end soon.

So much has been written in the past month about the lockdowns, the spread of the coronavirus and the human tragedies in hospitals and nursing homes, that it is difficult to find words that haven’t been used already, to describe or capture this unprecedented, historical situation. That said, I want to share some thoughts – worries, mainly – about how we can get out of the crisis.

Possessing the truth

For starters, I am really annoyed by all those righteous analyses of people who claim to possess the truth on corona. The underlying argument of their story is always the same: ‘See, I knew this was going to happen because [select a cause] globalisation / neoliberalism / plundering the earth is out of control. We will go into a systemic change from now!’ I even read an article of someone claiming the link between climate change and the coronavirus. But this is a skewed line of thinking and won’t help us get any further.

I am the first to acknowledge that overpopulation, depletion of natural resources, industrial farming and high rates of globalisation all are factors that have made the risk of such a pandemic as we currently experience, very high. Widely shared on social media are speeches of Bill Gates, Barack Obama and other leaders stating that it is not a matter of if but rather when the pandemic will break out. And when it breaks out ‘we’ should be ready.

Clearly the world was not prepared – apart from Eastern Asia, which is a region that is harnessed well against outbreaks of viruses, notably after the SARS crisis of 2003. But for the rest of the world, there are no dams or barriers high enough to stop COVID-19 from spreading.

We found ourselves in a situation that is comparable to a period of grief. First there is denial, then anger, followed by bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. I don’t know in which stage the world is now, but my main point is that this is a crisis that will not go away after one, two or even six months of lockdown. Humans are extremely vulnerable to the virus and that just puts everything on hold.

Nowhere to hide

We should abandon the hope that the virus will pass soon. Until there is a vaccine that works there is nowhere to hide, apart from your living room. In the meantime, we should go to into a state of ‘open patience’, as the Dutch philosopher Luuk van Middelaar wrote a few days ago in NRC Handelsblad.

Of course, societies cannot remain on full lockdown for an extended time. For a start, it kills the economy. Nearly 200 million fulltime jobs will be lost in the next three months. In the United States, already the worst coronavirus-hit country in the world, 16 million people lost their jobs in the last three weeks – which equals ten percent of the American labour population. This is pictured in a mind-boggling graph:

Politicians across the globe are now doing the right thing: flatten the curve, stop the virus from spreading so fast that it overwhelms our healthcare systems. We all know this by now, but actually it took a few weeks into the crisis before this strategy became apparent.

But what after the intensive cares are no longer overloaded and infection rates have lowered, while testing has been ramped up? If the lockdown is respected, countries should be able to move into the next phase – a time in which we can relax the lockdown rules.

Surviving the summer (and fall, winter, spring)

In this phase, the virus is more or less under control, but the fire is not extinguished. Flames will flare up regularly, after which society immediately has to follow the stricter regime rules. So schools may open, and close again. People could go back to work: first a few days a week, then fulltime, and then suddenly they have to work from home again. The same applies to shops, cinemas, restaurants, event locations, airports and borders.

In other words, we turn our economies and societies partly on and off, until A) the virus vanishes miraculously or B) a successful vaccine is introduced. (I don’t believe in herd immunity as the third option, because that is years away from now and we don’t know if people are actually immune after contracting COVID-19). The advent of a vaccine will take a year if everything goes well, but it is likely to take longer. Until then, we’re fucked.

It is this phase that I am most worried about, for the simple reason that ‘we’ cannot hold our breath for so long. EU Commission President Von der Leyen says that we have to live with the virus for the time being. But we can’t. It kills us and puts our countries in a state of paralysis.

Apart from the massive discipline needed from citizens, my fears are about the following consequences of such an on-and-off society.

First of all, economic havoc will rain upon our heads in this time. And every week will lead to more damage, more job losses and more financial strain. The IMF is already stating that the world will experience the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression. This year alone, the economies of some countries could contract by more than ten percent (worst-case scenario).

Sectors that are hit extremely hard are in the field of transport, tourism and entertainment. A massive nationalism of airlines seems likely. The automotive industry is on its knees. Revenues of hotels, b&bs and other travel/tourism segments have evaporated. Millions of restaurants, cafes and cinemas across the globe face imminent bankruptcy. Even online food delivery services face a hard time in some markets.

Even if countries keep the economic damage limited, they will suffer from severe disruptions of supply chains, disappearing demand from key trade partners. We already see in the Netherlands a bizarre effect: millions of tulips and roses are destroyed because they cannot be sold. If flowers are not able to being exported, what then for machine parts, chipsets and other semi-finished goods? How long can factories run if supply chains dry up? The internationalisation of the economy has made itself fragile for disruption.

(Speaking of internationalisation, it goes without saying that countries without proper healthcare systems face an unprecedented crisis which will be much worse than here in Europe or Northern America. The hammer will hit hardest in parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Read this tough analysis of the New York Times on the drama that will come)

Secondly, finance. As the economy grinds to a halt, states and financial institutions step in, with support measures of trillions of euros. The speed of the intervention of governments is unprecedented and should be welcomed. But debt levels of many countries have not recovered from that previous crisis, the credit crunch of the late 2000s. It seems we in the West will all be like Japan in a matter of months: unsustainable levels of debts for decades to come. Not to mention the huge risk that the ECB and others are taking with the ‘whatever it takes’ policy. Can our financial institutions survive a year of corona crisis, or will they collapse?

I also fear a plethora of knock-on effects as a result of the lockdowns. What will happen with developing economies and nations that now see foreign investments being hold back or even reverted? If one sector goes down, what will happen to the others? Can the 27 EU Member States coordinate their exit strategies, to prevent the Single Market from collapsing? Will budgets for addressing climate change be used for the emergency measures? Can democracies withstand the temptation to keep the current police-state measures in place, once COVID-19 belongs to the past? And what will the crisis do with our minds, our mental health, especially for those that have been hospitalised on the intensive care?

It makes no sense to formulate answers to these difficult questions, as we are at the very beginning of the crisis. But we need to observe, make plans, define strategies to handle the many dilemmas that will come on our plate very soon.

Let’s end with a few signs of hope.

Humanity is everywhere. Not just us as humans, but the way we take care of each other. By and large, societies across the world have wilfully accepted draconic measures that limit their freedoms. And all for the greater good: to save the old and the weak, out of respect for the healthcare workers, in consideration of the collective. Even in our highly individualistic societies that dominate the West, we think of the other. That goes beyond the bear hunts, the daily clapping ceremony, warning strangers to take a bit of distance. It is deeply empathic.

We reflect and reconnect. Suddenly our lives are put on hold. What do we do with all this time? I am only speaking about what I see in my direct environment, so not generalising for everyone, but I note that many people reach out to one another, reconnecting with friends, family and acquaintances, even if it is only online over Zoom, Skype or Hangout. Signs of aggression and impatience in public areas and in traffic are gone, people seem more polite and caring. We slow down and therefore see more details of our area of confinement: flowers in blossom, a renovated house, smiling neighbours. We hear the birds sing, we can sniff the clear and clean air, look at more stars at night. Suddenly people realise that humans are a part of nature and vice versa. We revalue the value of life, of living. Maybe this introspection will end with the eradication of the virus, but it is a wonderful side-effect of this fearful period.

Pharmaceuticals are united in their efforts to beat the virus. China released important characteristics of the virus at a very early stage, which helped kick-off research already in January, gaining critical time. Clinical trials are already starting. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will help prepare massive production capacity for seven different coronavirus vaccines, even if only one or two of these will prove useful. Gates will waste billions of euros with this approach and he doesn’t care. Because we don’t have time to wait for vaccine production to start up only after the right one has been found. Better to bet on seven horses at the same time.

Finally, the state is back. In 2011 I wrote a book on the decline of the power of the state (De machteloze staat), but that thesis is (alas partly) no longer valid. We need governments more than ever. They are the only institutions that can protect us (this is the prime reason of existence of states), not just in economical terms but also as a society. And they do this well. In a time of deep polarisation in society, of a dismissal of the added value of governments or democracies, a surge in legitimacy and accountability, is a fantastic and hopefully longterm effect of this historic crisis.

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Europa, treuzel niet met 5G

Dit opiniestuk verscheen op 18 december 2019 in NRC Handelsblad Europa is importeur van digitale diensten en 70 procent van gebruikersdata gaat naar de VS, schrijft Joop Hazenberg. Haal de achterstand…

Dit opiniestuk verscheen op 18 december 2019 in NRC Handelsblad

Europa is importeur van digitale diensten en 70 procent van gebruikersdata gaat naar de VS, schrijft Joop Hazenberg. Haal de achterstand in met een snelle 5G-introductie.

Illustratie Hajo / NRC Handelsblad

Bijna elke week kun je in Brussel naar een 5G-conferentie. Het onderwerp is al jaren niet meer weg te denken van de Europese agenda, en met goed recht. 5G-netwerken hebben de potentie om economie en samenleving naar een hoger plan te brengen, de economie en concurrentiekracht van de EU-lidstaten te verstevigen én de energietransitie te versnellen. 

Maar de laatste tijd komt de opvolger van 4G vooral negatief in het nieuws. Er zijn zorgen over de (staats)veiligheid van de enorme hoeveelheden data die straks over dit hypermoderne netwerk zullen flitsen. Zullen de Chinezen niet meeluisteren via Huawei? Verder rijzen veel vragen over de stralingseffecten van 5G (die grosso modo ongeveer dezelfde zullen zijn als 4G). De stad Brussel, de feitelijke hoofdstad van de Europese Unie, heeft alvast verboden om 5G uit te rollen. „Onze burgers zijn geen proefkonijnen!” zeggen de lokale Brusselse bestuurders met fierheid. 

Verder gaan de cruciale spectrumveilingen voor het mogelijk maken van 5G de verkeerde kant op. Telecombedrijven moeten vergunningen kopen om gebruik te maken van bepaalde frequenties, maar elke lidstaat heeft andere veilingregels en sommige landen zien het nieuwe spectrum puur als melkkoe. Dat komt doordat de vorige Europese Commissie er slechts deels in geslaagd is om telecomregels – en daarmee de interne telecommarkt – te harmoniseren. De Finnen doen het goed en slim en jagen de markt op om 5G zo snel mogelijk in te voeren, terwijl in Duitsland en Italië de telecomoperatoren vele miljarden euro’s hebben moeten ophoesten om de felbegeerde radiofrequenties te bemachtigen. In Nederland beginnen de veilingen volgend jaar en voor belangrijke spectrumbanden zoals 3,5 gigahertz, zelfs pas in 2022.

Ik maak me veel zorgen over het getreuzel en de twijfels rond 5G. Ten eerste omdat een trage uitrol van dit nieuwe netwerk de fragiele Europese economie niet zal verstevigen. En ten tweede omdat politici en beleidsmakers onvoldoende oog hebben voor de snoeiharde geopolitiek waarmee 5G en de digitale revolutie is omgeven. 

Sinds ik in 2016 in de telecomindustrie ben gaan werken, ben ik werkelijk doodgegooid met rapporten, analyses en discussies over wat 5G allemaal kan betekenen voor economie en samenleving. Dat is voor een deel natuurlijk hype, maar de kenmerken van 5G maken duidelijk dat de potentie enorm is. Het 5G-netwerk wordt een soort Zwitsers zakmes dat tegelijkertijd een enorme hoeveelheid functies en datastromen kan verwerken. 

Miljarden apparaten te verbinden

Ja, 5G zal het internet op uw telefoon nog sneller maken, maar het gaat vooral om industriële toepassingen waar het netwerk als een echte game changer werkt. Tegen 2025 hebben we 25 miljard ‘slimme’ apparaten op de wereld, waarvan er vele moeten worden verbonden met 5G. Denk aan geavanceerde robots op de werkvloer, zelfrijdende auto’s, miljoenen sensoren in stedelijke omgevingen en tienduizenden drones voor het leveren van pakketten of zelfs vervoeren van mensen.

Deze toekomst staat voor de deur en heet de vierde industriële revolutie. Ook kunstmatige intelligentie zal een belangrijke bouwsteen voor die revolutie zijn, maar 5G zal uiteindelijk als een soort smart grid functioneren; om al die miljarden apparaten, al dan niet met kunstmatige intelligentie, te verbinden en ze op een intelligente manier met elkaar te laten praten. 

In onze toekomstige omgeving wordt alles ‘slim’. Van autonoom vervoer tot decentrale energiegrids die de batterijen van elektrische auto’s ’s nachts gebruiken om het energiesysteem stabiel te houden. Van volautomatische landbouw waarbij nog geen druppel gif wordt verspild (of te veel stikstof uitgestoten), tot vergaderingen met hologrammen in plaats van videoconferenties. Zonder 5G kun je veel van deze innovaties op je buik schrijven.

De mogelijkheden van 5G worden uiteraard niet alleen in Europa onder de loep genomen. Er is wereldwijd een race aan de gang om 5G-netwerken als eerste in te voeren. Niet verrassend ligt Oost-Azië voorop, gevolgd door de VS. De EU komt daarachteraan. 

Europa achterop

Dat is een voortzetting van een trend. Europa was ook veel te laat met de uitrol van 4G, heeft nauwelijks IT-bedrijven die meespelen op wereldniveau, en blijft een netto-importeur van digitale diensten. Intussen gaat 70 procent van de persoonlijke data van Europese burgers direct naar bedrijven in de VS. We reageren halfslachtig en verdeeld op president Trump die een Koude Oorlog tegen Huawei en China voert.

En het laatste nieuws is dat Europese telecombedrijven Amerikaanse megabedrijven als Microsoft en Amazon het softwaregedeelte van 5G laten runnen. Gezien de enorme hoeveelheid data die 5G-netwerken gaan verwerken, is het duidelijk waar de toegevoegde waarde – en de gevoeligheid – ligt. Niet in de zendmasten in uw buurt of de glasvezelkabels onder de grond.

De nieuwe Europese Commissie heeft terecht een topprioriteit gemaakt van de Europese digitale soevereiniteit. We worden op dit moment echt weggespeeld en hebben behoefte aan een volwaardige digitale interne markt, met digitale Europese kampioenen die hun mannetje kunnen staan. 

Het is tijd voor de EU-lidstaten om wakker te worden. Duitsland en Frankrijk hebben alvast een project gelanceerd voor een Europese clouddienst. Nu nog een krachtige, gedeelde AI-strategie en een snelle introductie van 5G, en wie weet missen we dit keer dan niet de digitale boot. 

Joop Hazenberg is schrijver van het boek Technologie de baas.

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What is the European Green Deal?

On 11 December, the European Commission presented the long-awaited European Green Deal in a press conference and in a plenary session at the European Parliament. The Commission calls it ‘Europe’s man on…

On 11 December, the European Commission presented the long-awaited European Green Deal in a press conference and in a plenary session at the European Parliament. The Commission calls it ‘Europe’s man on the moon’ moment. For President Von der Leyen, climate forms the very heart of her political agenda for the next five years. “70 years ago, Europe invested in coal and steel. Now we are investing in renewables and algorithms. This is the core of the European Green Deal.”

I went through the whole document and it is a well thought-through piece of work. The Commission really covers all aspects in its strategy to make Europe as climate friendly as possible. From a strong push for the energy transition to massive reforestation plans and halting biodiversity, from sustainable farming to recycling of electronic waste – all the right measures are there.

Really groundbreaking is that the EU will enshrine in law the target of becoming (the first) climate-neutral continent by 2050. This is at least the ambition of the Commission, now supported by 26 of the 28 EU Member States (the UK will be out by January, and Poland refuses to budge, protecting its very large coal industry).

Whether they are actually realistic, remains to be seen. Decarbonising the energy system is – with current technology choices available – impossible. ‘Clean steel’ production by 2030? Forget it. Realising the circular economy? With only 12% of materials recycled in Europe, this is a paper dream. In the meantime, NGOs are unhappy (“it doesn’t go far enough”) and richer and poorer EU Member States may be split over the measures. Not to mention, what do to with nuclear energy.

Overview of actions

The package consists of 50 actions for 2050.  The key ones can be divided into various categories.

The hard-core political goals and actions: 

  • Europe climate-neutral by 2050, enshrined in law –> proposal for law in March 2020
  • 50/55% CO2 reduction by 2030 –> proposal to be presented by Summer 2020
  • Reform of ETS (Emissions Trading System) + carbon border tax
  • Mechanism for ‘just transition’ worth 100 billion euro (to get central EU Member States to accept the 2050 target)
  • Decarbonising the energy system – supplying clean, affordable and secure energy

Systemic reform of Europe’s economy (and society)

  • EU industrial strategy to address twin challenge of green and digital transformation –> adopted in March 2020
  • 1 million extra charging poles for EVs by 2025
  • Doubling of speed of renovating buildings and increasing energy efficiency
  • Investment plan by early 2020, EIB to become green investment bank
  • Shift to sustainable and smart mobility
  • Smart infrastructure and sector integration
  • European Climate Pact to focus on three ways to engage with the public on climate action –> March 2020 announced

Realisation of the circular economy

  • New circular economy action plan (the old one wasn’t effective), with sustainable products policy for circular design
  • ‘Right to repair’ for consumers, curbing the built-in obsolescence of devices, in particular for electronics
  • Economic growth decoupled from resource use
  • Development of lead markets in Europe for climate neutral and circular products
  • Preserving and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Massive reforestation of land in Europe
  • From ‘Farm to Fork’: a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system
  • End green washing of products and services by taking (non-)regulatory measures


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Living in the countryside

A lot of professional and personal projects are happening in my life right now. Which is not really news to people who know me. But there is a very special…

A lot of professional and personal projects are happening in my life right now. Which is not really news to people who know me. But there is a very special project taking shape, a project of which I have dreamt for a long time and that is now finally getting off the ground. By chance, almost.

Though I really like living in big cities, they do have their disadvantages. They are noisy, chaotic, hurried and not very green. This is why, at one point in my life, I would like to have a place in the countryside – ideally in the north of Spain or in Italy, close to the mountains, in rugged nature, a place that is bereft of human influence. In this second home, I would be able to reconnect with nature, write my articles and books, do a bit of bed-and-breakfasting on the side, retreating into contemplation and mindfulness while also keeping the door wide open to friends and family.

Such a house has come on my path, but it is not in the Mediterranean area. Rather, it is in the Belgian Ardennes, in the municipality of Durbuy to be precise. My partner found a job in the north of Luxembourg, which is not the most interesting area to live and it is too far for a daily commute from Brussels. So we found a solution – in the middle, as compromises are a matter of give and take. We bought an old farm in the Ardennes, which is right between Brussels and Luxembourg, and have been renovating the place for over a year now.

Since May, I have spent a lot of time in the countryside, now that my partner has moved into the house that is not quite finished yet. In fact, I was there for a large part of the summer. Busy times in Brussels have commanded that I can only be there during weekends, but nonetheless, I made some observations about living in the countryside. Though it is in Belgium, I guess that the experience will be similar to living in rural areas in Spain or Italy (apart from the weather and the aperitif culture).

The farm from above

First of all, life is quiet and slow on the countryside. This of course is no surprise, a no-brainer. But if you experience it day in, day out, rather than just going for a weekend, it really does something to you. Think away the tourists in the Ardennes, and all you have is nature and farms. There is not a lot of other activities or cultural sights/cities in this area. So you as a person, also need to become quiet and slow. That means soaking up the solitude, going for long, silent walks with the dog, be patient with slow service / responses of people with whom you engage, find comfort in the limited company that you may find.

To be honest, I am not there yet, accepting this way of living. For me it is a bit too quiet, especially if I am working from home, and my colleagues are far away (in Brussels, London and further). I also can get annoyed if you make an appointment with an organisation to, for instance, fix your internet or deliver a couch – and then they come at a different time or even day, without telling you. Which is – if I understand my Dutch builder correctly – is entirely normal in the Ardennes. One owner of a gîte confided to me: ‘If you ask someone to do something for you, make sure you just don’t get the day and month right, but also the year.’

Secondly, connecting with nature certainly is a dominant feature of a rural existence. There are various walks into forests commencing straight from our house. In our wild garden, there are dozens of different plant species – the garden itself is in Natura 2000 area. When we bought the place, there were even beavers behind our house who made a dam and created a beaver-made lake! Also, I haven’t seen so many butterflies since my youth.

Every week you can see the vegetation change; even in October there are certain flowers blossoming which is wonderful. In the meantime, hunters close some roads in the weekends in order to fulfil their annual killing spree. Which is a necessity because the wildlife is quite sprawling and too many deer and wild boars, for instance, can be a hazard to the natural environment and also for drivers.

And then the stars at night…. An evening without ‘light pollution’ can make the sky pitch black and you can see thousands of stars with the naked eye.

A third and more challenging point is connecting with people. The inhabitants of the Ardennes are not known to be the most open Belgians. In our village we have quite a few ‘import residents’, notably from Brussels and the Netherlands. When we after a few months living there, brought around some home-made cookie jars to introduce ourselves, most of the local people were a bit reluctant to talk to us and didn’t invite us in, while the ‘import’ neighbours usually were more welcoming, offering us wine and beer instead of a short ‘merci’ and a closing door.

You’d also really need to speak French. In touristy areas you can get away with Dutch and English (the Ardennes are very popular with Dutch and Flemish visitors, but not vice versa), but once you are in the normal life, French is the norm, the only language in fact. This is not a problem for me, but something you need to be ready for. People here also tend to be carré in their thinking – which means not flexible at all. Last weekend, our builder told us we could buy some stuff for the renovation at his account at the hardware store. When we informed the cashier about his approval, she started fuming, telling us that he should have called her first, and then complaining she had to rescan our handful of items.

The jury is still out whether we will be able to build a proper social life in the Ardennes, it is much too soon for that. But it will require a lot of time and effort – at least, that’s my gut feeling for now. Networking and making friends is so much easier in big, cosmopolitan places. But these connections tend to be flaky, transient. Now that I think of it, most of the people that I befriended in Brussels, have already left in the meantime.

Fourth and last: distance. I really have to get used to the idea that the nearest (proper) supermarket is a fifteen-minute drive away. That there is not even a bakery in the village. That also the gym is more than ten kilometers from our house. That all my friends are 100-200 kilometers away. And this is still Belgium! What if we moved to the Pyrenees, how far (and unbridgeable) would the distances become then?

So if you have any plans or dreams about moving to the countryside, I would recommend to just test the waters. Rent a place for a while, don’t plan too much touristic stuff but also lead your life as if it was your daily routine. Slow down and look around. Try to talk to the cows and see if you manage to get their interest. Sit down next to a river and feel if the silence and lack of stimuli makes you excited, or nervous. (Just don’t drink the water, it can make you sick with all the untreated water being dumped!). It is great to park your car easily at the supermarket, but are you prepared to be dependent of a car to get your groceries? And as the evenings are quiet, would you be happy with books, tv and Netflix as the main distractors (apart from your partner / family of course)?

For the moment, I have concluded that I will want to spend the majority of my time in the city, to be closer to friends and colleagues, not having to work in a virtual environment. Which is not so strange, given the fact that I have lived most of my life in big cities. But the life on the countryside holds also much potential – a promise that will yet need to be uncovered, and requires patience and dedication.

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Technologie de baas in de media

Het is inmiddels drie maanden geleden dat mijn nieuwe boek Technologie de baas is gelanceerd, met een mooi evenement op 8 april in Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. Voor een…

Het is inmiddels drie maanden geleden dat mijn nieuwe boek Technologie de baas is gelanceerd, met een mooi evenement op 8 april in Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. Voor een gehoor van ongeveer honderd man zette ik de belangrijkste thema’s en conclusies van het boek uiteen, waarna een panel met Kees Verhoeven (Tweede Kamerlid D66), Robert Went (WRR), Hans Schnitzler (filosoof) en Roos de Jong (Rathenau Instituut) reageerden. Kijk de presentatie hier terug (het geluid gaat aan na 20 minuten). In de ochtend van de presentatie was ik overigens al in de uitzending van BNR om het boek toe te lichten.

Vrij snel daarna volgden twee opinieartikelen op basis van Technologie de baas.

Voor PW. – het grootste HR-vakblad in Nederland – schreef ik op verzoek een lang stuk over de impact van de vierde Industriële Revolutie op de arbeidsmarkt. Als gevolg van de enorme stroom aan nieuwe technologie die de komende jaren over ons komt, zal de arbeidsmarkt en werken als zodanig ingrijpend veranderen, was mijn stelling voor dit artikel.

Rond dezelfde tijd publiceerde Trouw een opinieartikel van mijn hand over het belasten van techreuzen. Technologische vooruitgang drijft ongelijkheid in de wereld op. Een digitaks alleen kan daar weinig tegen uithalen.

In juni interviewde Managementboek.nl mij over Technologie de baas. In het interview ga ik onder meer in op doorbraken in technologieën als robotisering, artificiële intelligentie en 5G – en ik benoem uiteraard ook de bijkomende (ethische) dilemma’s. Lees dit boekblog hier.

De toonaangevende marketing- en communicatiesite Frankwatching schreef een recensie over het boek: Zo ziet het leven er in 2039 uit. Ik wil me nadrukkelijk niet als futuroloog bestempelen, maar de auteur van de recensie stelt gelukkig dat ik mij baseer op ‘betrouwbare bronnen en onderzoeken.’

Ten slotte mocht ik begin juli wederom aanschuiven bij BNR, dit maal om te praten over wat het nieuwe mobiele netwerk 5G betekent voor onze economie en samenleving. Je kunt de uitzending hier terugluisteren.

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The next European Parliament and Commission: expect more Europe, not less

2019 is an exciting year for the European Union. In May, more than half of voters in the EU casted their ballots for the new European Parliament (up from 43%…

2019 is an exciting year for the European Union. In May, more than half of voters in the EU casted their ballots for the new European Parliament (up from 43% in 2014). In November, the successor to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will start, with a fresh team. The European Council also gets a new President. And then there’s Brexit, now scheduled for October 31.

Here’s an overview of the main changes that we can expect for the EU in 2019-2024, the coming mandate for both the EP and the Commission. Let’s start with the European Parliament.

European Parliament: more diverse

Though the EP elections have been dubbed as ‘historic’ and ‘crucial’, it remains to be seen whether the shift in the power balance within the EP will actually translate into different policies. True, the normally dominant blocks of christian-democrats (EPP) and socialists (S&D) have lost their majority. The Liberals will now be necessary to form some kind of coalition – even though this Parliament is not really a Parliament (according to the German High Court) as it does not appoint a government nor does it represent European citizens on transnational lists (though it must be stated that Volt, a pan-European party, got one MEP elected).

But let’s say there will be such a broad coalition, that doesn’t mean that things will change that much. The Greens, if they join the coalition, for sure will want more climate action – but is that feasible giving the already high targets of the EU for 2030 and beyond? And given that the EU is already seen as a climate leader in the world? The Liberals + Renaissance (the list of French President Macron) have a long wish-list to reform and strengthen Europe, for instance on asylum and migration policies and on the Digital Single Market. Many of these points will be supported (albeit sometimes lukewarmly) by other political groups in the EP.

The Liberals (formerly known as ALDE, we are still waiting for a new name) are pivoting themselves against the ‘illiberal’ forces that have taken a fair chunk of the EP: nationalist, eurosceptic and anti-EU parties from all over the EU. But the fear of many that they would become a distorting power in the EP, has not materialised. As Politico stated: the populist tide rises but fails to flood the EU. Some parties have done quite well, notably Salvini’s Lega Nord in Italy with 33% of the vote and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France with 23% coming in first place.

The EP had a remarkable campaign to get voters out, including babies

But in other countries such as Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, far-right and nationalist parties only got a thin slice of electoral support – not the third of the cake as was project in some polls. One important thing to note is that these parties do not necessarily work together well and will join the same group, which means that their influence will likely be lower than if you just add up the numbers.

We should actually be content with the fragmentation of the European Parliament. It used to be a pro-integration machine with even strong federalist forces. Such single-mindedness has now been put aside for a more realistic and diverse representation of the European electorate. This is healthy and good for European democracy. It will also liven up the debate in the EP.

The new Commission: working on an EU that protects

How will this change of hearts of voters actually translate into a new European Commission? Right now, EU observers are frantically looking for indications who will be the next Commission President – the starting point to compose the executive body of the EU for the next five years. As readers may well know, the EP has been pushing its own Spitzenkandidaten, primary candidates such as EPP’s Manfred Weber and S&D’s Frans Timmermans. But given the shrunken size of these two (former) reins of power, as well as the formidable opposition to the Spitzenkandidaten system by influential EU leaders such as President Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, it is unlikely that either Weber or Timmermans will in the end be nominated by the European Council.

EPP candidate Manfred Weber on 'listening tour', February 2019
EPP candidate Manfred Weber on ‘listening tour’, February 2019

The EU Member States are expected to take a decision on 21 June on the candidate for the Commission President. It is very hard to give a good prediction of who will come up first. Other candidates, if informal, are the French Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (I would give him the best odds as he is also from the EPP and respected across the board) and the Danish Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

This is a real tombola. In the next weeks and months, EU leaders also need to decide on a new Council President (now Donald Tusk) and the new High Representative for Foreign Affairs. The EP has to elect a new President as well. All these posts are connected and a careful balance of power, aka horse trading, is crucial. EPP, S&D and Liberals will all want ‘one of them’ on a crucial place. For instance, if Weber does get elected, that means that not another German (for instance Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel) can get the position as Council President. Then a social-democrat or a liberal will need to be found, possibly even from another region in the EU.

When in the summer all the names will have been checked and approved, the soon-to-be-President can start forming his own Commission which will then be ‘grilled’ by the European Parliament in September-October. Member States will need to come up with candidates; timing is of the essence. Finland has done so already by the way, by proposing Jutta Urpilainen. Bulgaria will most likely put forward again the current Commissioner for Digital Economy, Mariya Gabriel.

More importantly than all the names are actually the priorities of the new Commission. It is expected that current policies to further integrate Europe’s (digital) markets will be continued and that reform of the eurozone governance will also remain high on the agenda. The Commission will also undoubtedly keep pushing for climate action.

A new approach however, which has come up with the rise of Emmanuel Macron, is the idea of a Europe that protects. So not only doing nice things for European citizens in the form of abolishment of mobile phone roaming surcharges and other ‘output deliverables’ that are supposed to increase legitimacy for European integration.

A Europe that protects will for instance, have a stronger European foreign policy which is very much needed given the adversity of Russia, the departure of the British, the loss of transatlantic relations (I expect Donald Trump to be reelected in 2020) and the further (aggressive) rise of China. Another hot topic of course is immigration which will need much stronger and coordinated policies, for instance through the reform of the Schengen and Dublin systems. Then there is the wish of the social-democrats to widen the social protection policies of the EU, which is controversial, because anything related to the welfare state such as unemployment benefits and pension rights, is a competence which lies entirely with the EU Member States. All this will be laid down in a working programme for the Commission which will change from year to year.

Finally, money. The EU will decide on its own budget for the period 2021-2027 before the end of the year, taking into account the new balance of power of the European Parliament. This ‘Multiannual Financial Framework’ will be no more than 1,3% of Europe’s gross national income but still be considerable in real numbers: up to 1325 billion euros – most of this money going to the EU’s agriculture policies and ‘cohesion funds’ for poorer areas in the bloc. One new element is that this EU budget can be revised mid-term, in 2023.

So right now in Brussels, it’s a bit of a lull for observers and lobbyists, a transition year in which new priorities will be set. But it’s now already clear that European integration will move on. And that there’s not a sufficient counterforce in the EP or within Member States to halt – or even reverse – the train. The next years we can expect more Europe – not less.

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