Innov8 — the hottest conference in Brussels about innovation

Adam Bartha, EPICENTER // 21.10.2016

Innov8, our conference about innovation in various fields from science & tech to agriculture, took place in Brussels this week and provided a stimulating platform for debate for our 80 participants. Besides hearing new ideas from our insightful panellists — MEPs, Commission representatives, policy experts and representatives from innovative companies — we were delighted that members of the audience were able to contribute greatly to an illuminating discussion. If you missed out on our live debate, this post provides you with a summary of all panels, but you can also catch up on the online discussion, which was trending under the hashtag #Innov8eu! If you want to see the pictures from the conference day, follow us on facebook!

 

Innovation in regulatory approaches: the sharing economy and digital platforms

Our first panel kicked off the debate with one of the hottest topics in town; innovation in digital platforms and the sharing economy. Both MEPs on the panel — Anna Maria Corazza Bildt and Daniel Dalton — emphasised the problems caused by misguided legislation in many countries that ban new and innovative technologies such as Uber or Airbnb, but they also pointed out that the fears of citizens about job security and safety need to be addressed by politicians. Marine Elgrichi from Spotify underlined the fact that new technologies and start-ups can bring about very positive change for all market participants — such as Spotify did by allowing consumers to enjoy online music streaming, without resorting to illegal downloads, which whitened the industry in Sweden and then throughout the world. The panellists also emphasised the danger of high regulations, as smaller start-ups are often not able to afford compliance with regulation, thus creating creating a situation of unfair competition practices. You can read more about our ideas on how Europe can improve policy the field of technology here.

 

Innovation in Agriculture

The panellists offered insights about the relationship between subsidies and regulation, namely that the agricultural  subsidies often involve greater statutory regulation. The relationship between nature and technology was at the core of the discussion, best illustrated by the frequent tendency to view the agricultural sector in a romantic and old-fashioned way, without realising how high-tech it has become. Today, all farmers rely on technology, the question is where they draw the line. Both organic and non-organic farmers use pesticide and panellist put much emphasis on the need for small scale farmers to engage in modernisation and adapt smart practices, if they wish to meet the challenges of the future. A greater awareness of the costs and trade-offs associated with restricting food and agricultural technologies is needed. Some areas where these trade-offs are present include; 1.) Having affordable food 2.) Having healthy food 3.) Preventing adverse environmental impacts of food production. Follow this link to see how the EU should modify its agricultural policies in a way that requires the least trade off in the above mentioned areas.

 

Innovation in harm reduction

It is in everybody’s interest to reduce the harmful, unintended effects of certain behaviours; whether it is smoking, alcohol or medicinal policy, our panellists agreed that the current regulatory framework limits the abilities of new technologies to help people live better and healthier lives. Whether it is about e-cigarettes replacing traditional ones, or allowing new drugs to enter the market, it is crucial that legislators allow the quick adoption of new technologies, because delay causes more problems than it solves. Therefore the replacement of the EU’s precautionary principle with an approach based on ‘permissionless innovation’ — a regulatory framework where experimentation with new technologies and ways of doing business is allowed by default — was a re-occurring theme of the conversation. More on that and other ideas on how to most effectively reduce harm through innovating technology through this link.

 

Innovation in food labelling 

Our two panellists Roberto Brazzale, CEO Gruppo Brazzale and Branka Tome, Head of Unit, DG Agriculture and Rural Development, had different ideas about the best methods of informing consumers about food products. The discussion addressed issues about the benefits and costs of extensive regulation and comprehensive informational requirements. While Mr Brazzale claims that geographical indications harm the consumer, because they decrease competition by artificially protecting certain producers, Ms Tome believes that consumers demand as extensive information about the product as possible. You can read more about the case for reform of Geographical Indications and food labelling throughout Europe here.

 

Innovation in new technologies: how can the EU adapt to and foster science and technology?

The split between EU member states with regards to innovation in new technologies show that with more economic freedom comes a higher degree of innovation. Creating a smart, simple and transparent regulatory framework greatly enhances the chances for entrepreneurs to prosper, which then in turn can lead to new technologies that can benefit European citizens. Neo-luddism, populism, bureaucratic interventionism are not the answer, yet many member states have embarked on this route. Panellists argued that re-thinking some of the competition rulings, completing the single market — through the digital single market — while preserving subsidiarity should be at the heart of the EU’s approach.

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