Europe needs $800 billion investment in digital infrastructure: Commissioner

ALPBACH, Austria (Reuters) - Europe needs to invest close to $800 billion in its digital infrastructure to catch up with the United States and China, the European Union commissioner responsible for the issue said on Thursday.

Guenther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, speaks during the welcome night at the world's biggest computer and software fair CeBit in Hanover, Germany, March 14, 2016. REUTERS/Nigel Treblin

Commissioner Guenther Oettinger also urged fellow Austrians to reject populist views that could deter technology experts from migrating to Europe to help drive development.

If Europe can’t develop fiber-optic networks and next-generation high-speed 5G wireless applications and networks fast enough, “we will lose, because important technological applications will not be possible any longer in our industry,” Oettinger said.

Amazon AMZN.O and Google GOOGL.O benefit from a U.S. wide data standard and have been able to collect data that gives them much broader knowledge of their customers' needs than most European companies, he said.

“Investments of 600-700 billion euros ($670-780 billion) are needed in the European area, according to our calculations,” Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said at a panel at the European Alpbach forum, an annual conference in Austria.

This included investments in Switzerland, Ukraine and the western Balkans which are part of the pan-European infrastructure, he said.

Oettinger, whose role covers the digital economy and society, said he was touring European countries to talk about the need for unified digital standards because this was the only way to meet the competition with digital giants such as Amazon and Google.

“In less than two years we will have one European legislative standard and a balance between data protection and the right to use the data,” he said when asked about when to expect a European-wide data regulation.

“Standards such as how to connect cars have to be the same in Europe. They should be strong enough to become part of the global norms and standards,” he said, urging European universities to attract international IT pioneers.

“We have to bundle our European strength we have at universities and in the industry, or our 28 silos will be not strong enough to compete with Silicon Valley and the Chinese,” Oettinger said.

Challenging the views of the right-wing Alternative for Germany and the Austrian anti-migrant Freedom Party, he told the audience: “If you were not willing to vote in that direction we could have a multicultural future.”

Austria is re-running a presidential election on Oct. 2. Opinion polls show the Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer just ahead of his independent rival, Alexander Van der Bellen, who narrowly beat Hofer in a previous run-off vote in May that was annulled.

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Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Ruth Pitchford