Securing Europe’s competitiveness: Addressing its technology gap

Even amid war in Europe and the energy and cost of living crisis that has resulted, the region needs to pay attention to its slow-motion corporate and technology crisis.

This report builds on an MGI article from May 2022, “Securing Europe’s future beyond energy: Addressing its corporate and technology gap.”

Europe as it is today has been forged in times of crisis. The European Union (EU) was created in response to the ravages of World War II. The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the start of a period of economic catching up by economies in Central and Eastern Europe. The 2008 financial crisis and the eurozone crisis that followed led to more financial cooperation among European countries. The COVID-19 pandemic then triggered a higher level of fiscal coordination through the NextGeneration EU fund.

Most recently, the Russian invasion of Ukraine not only is a humanitarian catastrophe but has exposed a range of fragilities, from food security and energy to defense. The war has accentuated the reality that resilience depends on a strong economy with strategic autonomy in these critical areas that has long been taken for granted.

Technology is pivotal, too. Unless Europe catches up with other major regions on key technologies, it will be vulnerable across all sectors on growth and competitiveness—compromising the region’s relatively robust record on sustainability and inclusion—as well as security and strategic strength, hindering long-term resilience. Given seismic events within its own continent, a robust Europe is arguably needed more than ever. Yet to make that a reality will require the region to address a slow-motion competitiveness crisis that has quietly been unfolding for two decades, centered on its corporate and technology gap with other major regions. That is the topic of this article. Confronting this gap will require leaders to show the same resolve and collaboration as they initially displayed in their response to the war in Ukraine.

Although Europe has many high-performing companies, in aggregate European companies underperform relative to those in other major regions: they are growing more slowly, creating lower returns, and investing less in R&D than their US counterparts. This largely reflects the fact that Europe missed the boat on the last technology revolution, lagging behind on value and growth in information and communications technology (ICT) and on other disruptive innovations.

ICT and other tech sectors have spawned a range of transversal technologies, which are spreading horizontally across sectors and determining competitive dynamics. This research looks at ten transversal technologies and finds that Europe leads on only two of the ten. If Europe is not successful in competing in these technologies, it could also lose its strongholds in traditional industries. To give just one example, Europe has been a leader in automotive but could become a laggard in autonomous driving.