A renewed approach towards Europe’s technological sovereignty

Technological sovereignty has been at the heart of political debates in Europe and interruptions to supply chains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated the urgency of the issue. Our study shows that Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) are crucial for Europe’s pursuit of technological sovereignty. However, despite efforts in Europe to develop KETs through dedicated investment programmes, research successes resulting in patents and a competitive start-up ecosystem, Europe is still lagging behind China and the United States. In order to catch up and achieve a digitalised and resilient society, Europe needs to increase R&D funding, support the development of skills and provide a better environment for the growth of European industrial leaders in KETs.

This study was conducted in collaboration with IDATE DigiWorld and Fraunhofer FOKUS for the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) of the European Parliament.

Our study discusses six key KETs important to Europe’s technological sovereignty: (1) advanced manufacturing, (2) advanced (nano)materials, (3) life-science technologies, (4) micro/nano-electronics and photonics, (5) artificial intelligence and (6) security & connectivity technologies. However, our analysis has also identified four key challenges that need to be addressed for Europe to master these technologies. Namely:

  1. Europe is dependent on third countries for access to many critical raw materials for KETs;
  2. many of the relevant value chains depend on non-European organisations and know-how, which puts Europe in a position of dependency in the global geo-political competition;
  3. there is a lack and a drain of technological experts and know-how which compromises the European industry and academia;
  4. Europe struggles in turning good scientific research results into commercial products and retaining them in Europe.

Policy measures

Following a general assessment of European policies and an overview of the main challenges of EU policymaking, a lack of EU joint action and coordination between different levels of governance emerges as the fifth challenge to the development of KETs.

In light of the identified challenges, our study suggests 25 policy measures to help Europe to catch up. As an overarching policy measure, we recommend that the current policy measures and the original KETs strategy of 2012 that contribute to the EU’s technological sovereignty and the development of the KETs are combined into a new and updated EU strategy. We propose for this new strategy for KETs to be based on an institutionalised policy dialogue between EU institutions, Member States, and all relevant stakeholders including the industry and academia, to pursue the common goal of achieving technological sovereignty in KETs. However, one should keep in mind that in an open and interconnected global economy, access to technologies is crucial for many businesses and governments to thrive and technological independence or protectionism should not be the solution.

Please find the full report on the website of the EU.
If you have any questions, please contact Michael Flickenschild.
You can also take a look at the online event that took place on the website of the European Parliament.

Technological sovereignty – a definition

In the political discourse of the EU, technological sovereignty is often interchangeably used with strategic autonomy, or digital sovereignty and it is brought up when it comes to concerns in the area of technology (e.g. lack of R&D spending), economics (e.g. access to materials along value chains) and regulation (e.g. impact of technologies on European values). In light of this, one can define technological sovereignty as the ability for Europe to develop, provide, protect and retain critical technologies required for the welfare of European citizens and prosperity of businesses, and the ability to act and decide independently in a globalised environment.

16 November 2021

3 minute read