Editor's note: this is a guest post from France Digitale CEO Nicolas Brien and PrestaShop CEO Alexandre Eruimy, with other co-signers listed at the bottom of the article.

The coronacrisis has prompted the most intense phase of digital transformation in the history of our continent. Social distancing has moved most of our daily interactions into the digital sphere. Kids are getting busy with gaming and e-sports. Teachers are moving their classes to Snapchat after banning smartphones from their classrooms. Millions of households have bought food and personal care products online for the first time.

Welcome to the real world, a digital world.

In 2020, Europe is moving further up the adoption curve like never before. As massive unemployment and dire trade deficits are looming, the digitalization of our economy should be considered to become an important piece of the recovery puzzle.

As Big Tech companies are celebrating triple-digits growth rates, this momentum has mainly benefited non-European players. This is crippling our economy in two respects: a competitiveness gap between European tech companies and American or Chinese players; and a legitimate concern about data protection.

Digital sovereignty should be the core of the recovery plan enacted by the 27 EU member states in July 2020. Back in June 2019, the European Council adopted a Strategic Plan mentioning the importance of "placing more clearly the interests of Europe first".

A few months later, newly appointed Commissioner Thierry Breton said it was vital for Europe to take back its technological sovereignty - something that was echoed by French President Macron last year when he advocated for 'the adoption of European preference in strategic industries and our public procurement'.

It is a mystery why European preference is such an inexistent notion in our regulatory framework, while it is a day-to-day factual reality in most global innovation hubs.

Also read: Europe’s pursuit of digital sovereignty could affect the future of the Internet (a guest post from Dr. Konstantinos Komaitis, a Senior Director at the Internet Society)

There is indeed a lot to learn from South Korea, China, Israel or the US when it comes to supporting innovation through public procurement. In the defense field, the United States have developed DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a state body placing orders exclusively from American companies.

Europeans are acting like the fall guy of global digital. Today, while public procurement makes up for about 15% of European GDP, non-European players make up to 75% of European public procurement. European preference is nothing more than a principle enshrined in European treaties.

We call for a full mobilization of public procurement in favor of a European preference; the European Parliament should grasp this historical opportunity to pass a Buy European Tech Act (BETA) and make public procurement a powerful lever for sovereign digitization.

We should set ambitious goals, so that at least half of European digital public procurement is earmarked to European companies.

We, European entrepreneurs, desperately need entrepreneurial states that will invest more in innovation – from artificial intelligence to public health to renewables. Let’s not waste the lessons from the coronacrisis, when political leaders who loved talking about Industry 4.0 and autonomous cars, were suddenly left asking anyone with a sewing machine to help make face masks. Shaping European tech champions and opening up public procurement to startups may avoid such tricky situations. Time has come for a new era of European sovereignty.

Co-signed by :

- Nicolas BRIEN, CEO @ France Digitale
- Alexandre ERUIMY, CEO @ PrestaShop & Board Member of Ascel, a digital trade association
- Augustin JARAK, CEO @ Startup Croatia, the country’s leading startup ecosystem developer
- Ricardo MARVAO, Co-Founder of Beta-i - Portuguese startup accelerator
- Markus RAUNIG, CEO @ Austrian Startups, a platform for entrepreneurship in Austria
- Maarika TRUU, Head of Startup Estonia, a government initiative aimed at supercharging the Estonian startup ecosystem
- Ivan VASILEV, President @ BESCO - Bulgarian Startup Association
- Matthias ZWINGLI, CEO @ Digital Switzerland, national startup association

Featured image credit: planet_fox / Pixabay