The EU for all of its lethargy, flaws, and fetishization of the bureaucracy is ultimately a good idea. It may be 64 years from the creation of the European Common Market, but it’s 29 years since the EU was founded in the Maastricht Treaty, and this international entity is definitely still acting like an indecisive millennial who likes to get involved in tech startup. Politics flies around. It is long time that this digital nomad got involved in a “location” when dealing with startups.
If we can all agree, this will be a unique moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology around the world, particularly in Europe. Fortunately, tech companies and startups have proven to be more resilient than much of the established economy. As a result, EU political leaders have started to focus on the innovation economy for a more sustainable future in Europe.
But that moment did not come soon enough.
The European tech scene is still lagging behind its counterparts in the US and Asia in terms of the number of startups created, talent in the tech sector, funding rounds and IPOs / exits. Of course, it doesn’t help that the European market is so fragmented and that it will remain so for a long time to come.
But there is absolutely no excuse when it comes to the EU’s commitment to reform charter legislation, taxation and talent development to “level the playing field” against US and Asian tech giants.
But to be very clear: the EU apparently cannot take care of startups.
Consider this litany of suggestions.
We already had the Start-Up and Scale-Up Initiative in 2016. In the same year we even had the Scale-Up Manifesto. Then there were the Cluj Recommendations (2019) and the non-optional campaign for option reform in 2020.
Let’s face it, the community of VCs, founders and startup associations in Europe has been saying almost the same thing to national and European executives for years.
This year we finally have a round-up of all these efforts.
Portugal, which will hold the European Presidency in the first half of this year, has taken the bull by the horns and has drawn up a near-definitive draft of what the EU needs.
After renewed intensive consultations with stakeholders in the European ecosystem, she identified eight best practices for leveling the playing field, covering the range of topics such as rapid start-up creation, talent, stock options, innovation in regulation and access to finance. You name it, it got it covered.
These were then included in the Startup Nations Standard and presented to the European Council on Digital Day on March 19, together with DG CNECT of the European Commission and its Commissioner Tierry Breton. I wrote about it then.
Would the EU finally get it under control and sign these apparently workable proposals?
At least it seemed that we could achieve something. On that day, around 25 Member States signed the declaration and, perhaps for the first time, a political consensus on this policy appears to be emerging.
In fact, the Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa announced a body to lead the initiative (the European Startup Nations Alliance), which, as he said, would be responsible for monitoring, developing and optimizing the standards and collecting data from the member states on their success and Failure and reporting of its results in a biannual conference in line with the rotating presidency of the European Council.
It seems like we can open a chilled bottle of DOC Bairrada Espumante and celebrate that Europe can finally start implementing at least the basics of this proposed policy.
But no. With the pandemic still raging, it seemed like EU leaders still had plenty of time to ponder these issues.
This is how the Scaleup Europe initiative was born from the thoughts of Emmanuel Macron, who brought together a select group of over 150 leading European technology founders, investors, researchers, business leaders and government officials to think more about startups. And then there was the Global Powerhouse Initiative by DG Research and Innovation Commissioner Mariya Gabriel.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we were about to go through this process again, with the EU acting as if it had the memory span of a giant goldfish.
Well, I’m not suggesting that all of these collective actions are a bad thing. But, by God, European startups need more decisive action.
Instead of implementing the very sensible Portuguese proposals, we must now wait for the EU’s wheels to slowly turn until the French presidency comes up next year.
With a bit of luck, however, a body to monitor the implementation of technology startup policy, mandated by the European Community and made up of organizations such as La French Tech, Startup Portugal and Startup Estonia, seems finally within reach.
But for outsiders it feels like the grinding of teeth in EU politics is going to take longer. Since the French are calling for a “La French Tech for Europe” and the Portuguese have already launched ESNA, the efforts seem anything but coordinated.
Ultimately, tech startup founders and investors don’t care where this new body comes from or which country brings it to market.
After years of input, years of deliberation, now is the time to act.
It is time for EU Member States to agree and move forward and help other Member States catch up on best practices.
It is time for the long-awaited European tech giants to blossom, take on the US-born big tech giants, and finally Europe to gain its weight.