Just over two months ago, in the splendid surroundings of the Concert Noble in the heart of Brussels, I hosted Huawei’s New Year Reception to celebrate the past year and look forward to the coming one. It was an optimistic occasion, themed around the anniversary of our 20 years in Europe this year, building on the trust that we have been shown by our partners and customers in the past two decades. We connected with hundreds of old friends and made new ones. It seems a long time ago now — it might as well have been two years not two months, so much has changed since then.
We could not have imagined that in a matter of weeks we would not be able to go to our offices, to take our children to school, to travel, to spend precious time with our friends and loved ones, or to comfort them when they became sick. Or, most heartbreaking of all for far too many of us, to hold their hand as they took their last breath. But this is where we are now, in Europe and across the world.
We are told this is the “new normal”. Regrettably, this is true for now. Some of this will last a long time, some of it will be less permanent. What hasn’t changed, though, is the sentiment I expressed that evening to our guests in Brussels — our commitment to Europe — now more than ever.
When we eventually get through this — and we will get through this together — economies are going to need to get going again fast, so that truly no one is left behind, and so that the inevitable job losses are minimized.
Just last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Europe “will need a massive investment to jumpstart our economies”. And there is talk of a new “Marshall Plan for Europe”. This is clearly something that governments will need to work out together, but I firmly believe it’s the duty of global companies like Huawei to help the process of regeneration and renewal as well. We can help and we want to help.
Many people across Europe — just like in China — will have lost their jobs; there will be many people having to start all over again — and we need them to have the best connectivity and digital tools available. More than that, we need them to have job opportunities and prospects. We may go in and out of lockdowns and restrictions for a very long time, the path is not going to be a short or a straight one. That is why, for me, it’s really important to stress that we are increasing our commitment to Europe in these difficult times. We will be creating more jobs for Europeans. For example, on that evening of our spring reception I announced our plans to build a factory to make 5G equipment here in Europe — 5G for Europe made in Europe — and we are continuing our search for talented people to join us across the Continent.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the big differences in connectivity and digital economies around the world, including Europe. For many children, education has been severely interrupted, and many do not have the ability to continue it online — this will only add to inequalities in the future unless we can close this digital gap in opportunity for our young people. This highlights the need to move fast after this period with investment in new connectivity solutions like 5G.
Governments will have lots of debt, so things will be difficult. New businesses will need to be started and grow. There will be new ways of doing things. Jobs will need to be created — and governments will know that, in 2020 and beyond, there is no better way to create social and economic value than investing in a robust model that is both green and digital. It might prove difficult for some little stores to re-open their premises after a few months in lockdown, for example, but if they have access to a digital ecosystem that allows them to at least continue some of their business, it could be a game changer not only for the company itself and for its employees, but also for the European economic model, which itself is made of many parts. These parts — in the form of SMEs — create immense value for society as a whole. Technology does not exist in a vacuum, it is just a tool for humans.
If I can even allow some optimism, this could be a time when we can look at how we do things better in the future. A time to re-evaluate the mechanisms and structures of our societies. If we are having to redesign our economies, then let’s work to make them more efficient, less wasteful, with more sustainable products and more opportunities for all. Let’s use this time to create a European example of the circular economy. A model for a new world of business. A more resilient Europe. A ready-to-lead European Union. President von der Leyen said this is the moment “to put behind us the old divisions, disputes and recriminations. The moment to be ready for that new world”.
That moment is coming. It may seem a long way off now, as we sit confined to our homes, but it is coming. And if we learn to trust one another, to help one another, and to learn from one another, Europe — and the world — can be a safer and more equal place. And that moment will come quicker than we think.
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