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Forget Generation X or Y, Eva Paunova says Europe should be focusing further up the alphabet.
As one of the younger MEPs, Ms Paunova says Generation D — those who are keen adopters of new technology and digital innovation, regardless of their age — is the important demographic.
The 29-year-old Bulgarian says connecting with this group is vital for Europe to grow, in both trading power and influence. “The EU needs to change fundamentally. We need to learn to work together at all levels, and our economy has to adapt to the realities of the digital world,” she says.
“What drives me as a person and a politician is the motivation to assist Generation D to discover and nurture new areas of research and innovation.”
This year, Ms Paunova, one of the youngest members of the European People’s Party, was chosen as the best new MEP to gain her place in the 2015 Europe New 100 ranking.
A graduate of the American John Cabot University in Rome, she stood as a member of Bulgaria’s ruling centre-right GERB party and became one of the country’s 17 MEPs in May 2014 European elections.
She is also one of a growing band of Bulgarian women making their mark in politics. Others in high places are the mayor of Sofia, the speaker of Parliament, two deputy prime ministers and three cabinet ministers.
Ms Paunova believes the EU’s Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy can make the 28-nation bloc more competitive with the US in terms of knowledge and innovation.
“It is an absolutely realistic prospect for Europe to become as digital and connected as the US,” she says. “Once DSM is finalised, we will be looking at over 600m potential customers.
“Removing the boundaries between digital markets across the EU would give a boost to ecommerce, empower start-ups and support innovation.”
Digital businesses have to contend with 28 sets of national contract law. The EU says the aim of the initiative, which is due to be up and working by 2020, is to update EU single market rules for the digital era, boost the music download business, establish a single area for online payments and further protect online consumers.
A fast-growing IT sector has turned Ms Paunova’s native Bulgaria into a centre for information technology and outsourcing, helping to prop up the country’s stagnating economy.
Ms Paunova says: “Bulgaria will create the first local investment advisory hub for the European Fund for Strategic Investments [which has the goal of reviving investment in crucial EU projects] to assist businesses with identifying and applying for funding.”
She says initiatives aimed at boosting Bulgaria’s research and innovation capacities — such as the development of Sofia Tech Park — along with the network of advisory offices for SMEs being developed across the country, will help Bulgaria’s business and innovation potential flourish. The tech park aims to create and manage an environment for innovation, build and implement educational programmes, and provide support for the commercialisation of new technologies, products and services
Ms Paunova is also a member of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with China and the US, and argues that the bloc can do business with China without having to compromise on issues of human rights. “The EU has never sidelined human rights in its dialogue with China,” she says.
She believes the member states of central and eastern Europe can attract more investors from China thanks to “relative economic stability, well-educated and skilled manpower and reasonable taxes”.
She cites the Trakia Economic Zone, a public-private partnership of industrial areas based around Bulgaria’s second-largest city of Plovdiv, as an example of how projects may work.
“The aim of the project is to help implement strategies and technologies that will enable collaboration with international partners,” she says. “The logistics of doing business, which often differs significantly between Europe and China, will no longer be an obstacle to investment.
“There is clearly a growing interest among Chinese investors. For example, the largest private Chinese company, Pacific Construction Group, has chosen Bulgaria to establish a base for further investments in the EU.”