Would EU exit 'stuff' the UK? Tech policy boss gets diplomatic

Brussels now intent on bolstering tech startups

One of the official cheerleaders of Europe’s digital industry said he couldn’t believe the UK would be mad enough to vote itself out of Europe in the upcoming EU referendum, and leave itself effectively stuffed as a tech power.

OK, John Higgins, former intellect boss and now director general of DigitalEurope, was far more diplomatic than that, but that was how we put the question.

Higgins, speaking at a Huawei innovation day in Munich, said Europe’s tech sector was catching up viz-a-viz the US, but had still not created the sort of single market that underpinned the US tech sector’s dominance.

German businesses' first instinct was to focus on German speaking countries, he said, while the UK’s was ... well, guess what.

He said Brussels’ latest strategies to bolster tech startups and digitalisation in Europe, unveiled last month, went a long way to putting a more nurturing environment in place.

But, he continued, “national measures” — around 37,000 of them apparently — continue to entangle the single market. Meanwhile, the old bugbears of access to capital and a skills shortages continued to put a brake on development of tech-based startups.

Higgins singled out the UK as one of the leaders in tackling skills issues within Europe.

Not that this will be much good it opts to leave the EU in the planned 2017 referendum.

Higgins seemed to suggest that a UK exit would be a bad thing, both for the plucky islanders themselves, and the rest of Europe: “I really really hope they see the opportunity in the single market...and that they are successful in persuading their European colleagues to focus on the single market aspect.”

Asked if a NO vote would explicitly leave the UK “stuffed” in building out its own tech sector, Higgins said ultimately he hoped to not have to answer the question, because “I don’t think the UK’s going to go.”

Higgins said Europe is catching up in the cultivation of tech upstarts with billion-dollar valuations, although, he said, around three quarters of the benefit of “digital” came from its adoption by existing firms, rather than tech startups.

Effective digital adoption could speed a company’s growth by a factor of three, he said. Or curiously, five to six times if you're in France. ®

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