Neelie Kroes: can the European Commission make Europe better for startups?

Neelie Kroes

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission

Interviewed by Loic Le Meur

Neelie Kroes has begun an exciting experience - the inventors of Angry Birds came over to tell them what was needed. She cancelled her next appointment and called the Spanish finance minister to listen top them. In three hours they ended up with a to-do list - and inspiration. 

Loïc points out that we have a lot of successful stratums in the room. How important are they to the Europeav Commission. Every week they have a meeting of the commission, and it is doom and gloom: unemployment, the euro and so on. She was fed up - so she asked for the floor, and said that there was one sector giving hope - and they should feed it: ICT, entrepreneurship and digitisation. 

Loïc: but they haven't been on the scale of Facebook or Twitter.

She doesn't quite agree. If you add up all the startups - they are numbers that are omparible with Silicon Valley. If she looks at London, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam, she see entrepreneurs and others talking about what is at stake. We need an Airbus of chips. When Airbus was created, members were willing to work across borders. We can't go for the slow path of a digital internal market. We need top ytacle the problems that stop entrepreneurs working across Europe. 

They have a plan and money - €100m - for a network of entrepreneurs across Europe. The money will be to inspire and create partnerships. They need food for thought. If they can stimulate examples of creating centres of excellence that make sense, then please come and let's talk. 

But, as Loïc points out - she can't do anything about local problems like capital gains tax. She counters that she's not biased towards a particular nation or city. Their job is to make it easier to work cross-nationally, through law and regulation. They need to identify the big hurdles. 

Loïc is unconvinced - so she challenges him to tell us what he would do. He thinks that entrepreneurship is better taught in the US - so we should teach our children more to create their jobs, not apply for them. He would try to protect the entrepreneurs, but not too much: bad products should still fail. But the things that sow them down should go. VAT is a bad one. It's much easier to hire and fire in the US.

She responds to his first point by suggesting that the young people have the enthusiasm, but their elders quash that spirit. There's a mindset change needed all over Europe. The generation above Loïc - the 50-plus people - need to change their minds, and use the generation behind them more. The strtup community need to be more concrete in the way they ask for things from government. She needs our stories to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Can anyone explain why VAT is higher for ebooks than printed books? She can't. It's a ring-fenced way of thinking, and tax affairs are in the hands of member states.