Isn’t this a fascinating question? It goes without saying that I have little clue about the answer, but I’m sure this is something European policy-makers need to look into pretty soon, especially as they work toward a new set of policies for the post-2010 Information Society.
There are two facts that stem out of this election.
First of all, European citizens hardly care about Europe. One could say that this is incorrect and what the election shows is that they are between skeptical and uniformed about the role of institutions like the European Parliament. It is certainly true that in difficult times people tend to retract within their borders and topics like “a single European market” are seen more as threats than as opportunities. It is equally true that the European Union has not accomplished much to face the current economic crisis, leaving different member states (such as Germany or France) to take their own measures.
Secondly, there has been a considerable shift to the right. Left-wing, labor governments and political parties have receded, and conservatives (both those running their countries and those at the opposition) have gained considerably. This seems counterintuitive, since at times of crisis people usually look for a greater role for governments in the economy and not for policies that speak to the privatization and free market. Ironically, the effective functioning of a free European market is one of the foundations of many European policies.
At face value this should mean more pro-business attitude, less emphasis on regulations (including consumer protection from software product liabilities), less fervor in fighting proprietary software, a more focused approach to R&D and more in general a positive attitude toward free trade.
However, the economic downturn also means that politicians will aim at protecting national rather than European jobs and sustain national rather than European businesses. This mean that protectionist measures can still be taken that may affect the European IT internal market (for those who believe this is not possible, just look at how many EU countries are now over their debt-to-GDP threshold) and technology sourcing decisions may favor national employment over efficiency. In the government IT space areas like public procurement, the establishment of an effective European interoperability strategy and even the creation of European cloud services may all be affected.
Other important elements in all this are the agreement on a European constitution, which should allow the EU institutions to become more effective that they are today in their decision-making processes, and the new European Commission, which will start in January 2010.
So, while it is too early to derive any sensible conclusion about the impact of these elections on IT-related policies, there is no reason to believe that the struggle between national and European interests will not continue, and that this will do very little to help Europe return on the IT innovation map any time soon.