Interview with Dana Puia Morel, policy officer at the European Commission, Directorate General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs
Dana Puia Morel has a policy officer position at the European Commission, Directorate General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, in the unit in charge of digitalization of the Single Market. Previously she worked on the European Semester and was a policy adviser to the President of the Commission (as part of the Bureau of European Policy Advisers). She holds a graduate degree from SNSPA, a Masters degree in public administration from Columbia University as well as a PhD in political science from the University of Pittsburgh. She teaches a class on EU policies at Vesalius College in Brussels.
You have recently organized a workshop in Bucharest on the collaborative economy. Could you briefly explain this concept and why it is important for the European Commission?
We, those of us working on this at the Commission, have spent a lot of time thinking about a definition for the collaborative economy. We analyzed the role of technology, the nature of what is being shared, and the services being offered, and of course we looked across the Atlantic where this phenomenon is more developed. In the end, I have found the best description in a Romanian magazine: “Sharing is the new buying!” For us, the collaborative economy represents a new form of business models that involves a platform through which assets that otherwise sit idle are being shared. These can be cars that stay in the garage 95 % of the time, parking spots that otherwise stay unoccupied, tools that sit unused in a tool box most of the time, spare rooms, clothes that are forgotten in a closet, or underused skills that can be exchanged for community services. Creating collaborative services out of these assets increases their value, so we are looking at a phenomenon that could soon represent a significant part of the economy. From this perspective, it is important to let these innovative businesses grow and not stifle them with over-regulation. We in the Commission are currently in a so-called ‘discovery phase’ in which we would like to see what I call the real face of the collaborative economy: creative entrepreneurs. We are interested to hear what is the inspiration behind their businesses, but also what are the challenges they are confronted with, especially in terms of existing legislation, paying taxes or social security contributions. This is why we have organized workshops on the collaborative economy in Stockholm, Berlin and Bucharest and we’ll go to Barcelona next.
Does the collaborative economy represent an opportunity for Romania’s development? How is Romania seen from Brussels?
Romania is changing at a fast pace and we have decided to organize a workshop in Bucharest to capture this change. Romania’s competitive advantage is in part given by this highly skilled work force that could accelerate the development engines of the country. There is just one puzzle to solve: How do you attract users/consumers to your platform, once you have created it? The entrepreneurs we met at NOD Makerspace, a creative hub where bright ideas, craftsmanship, tools and space are being shared, seem to be close to solving this puzzle through their marketing strategies.
What are the most interesting results of your workshop? Are Romanian and Polish entrepreneurs facing different challenges when compared to other Member States?
Not surprisingly, the most powerful issue that emerged in our workshop is that of trust. While platforms are being created at a fast pace, consumers in this part of the world are not in such a rush to use these websites: they are more risk-averse than their Western neighbors and simply do not trust that all will go well. People are afraid that sharing an asset will have unwanted effects like damage or the item being stolen. Some of the entrepreneurs we spoke to are worried that the authorities might not be able to mitigate/correct such negative outcomes, therefore this role seems relegated to the platforms, where everything becomes track-able. This brings two issues into question: How much liability should lie with the company that owns the platform? Are reviews/rating systems sufficient enough to alleviate the lack of trust? This is all linked to the fear of over-regulation that came out strongly in our workshop: entrepreneurs are wary of legislation that could regulate the collaborative economy. However, the Commission has announced some guidance on how the existing Single Market legislation applies; we are doing this because we want to encourage a positive regulatory environment that nurtures this innovative phenomenon. Over-regulation would fragment the Single Market and the Commission is putting a lot of effort into completing the Single Market, more specifically the Digital Single Market (the area in which I work).
I should add that, to some extent, the Romanian and Polish entrepreneurs we met during our workshop in Bucharest face similar challenges to startups all over Europe: difficult access to finance, ambiguous regulations, relationships with the authorities that are not always smooth, and some barriers for expanding cross-border.
What could Romania do to encourage the collaborative economy?
I am coming back to the relationship between authorities, be they local or national, and businesses. I believe it is of paramount importance to improve this relationship, both in terms of trust and simplifying procedures. The belief of many at the workshop was that authorities should at least give entrepreneurs the benefit of the doubt, so that mutual trust could start growing and economic benefits would emerge. In terms of making it easier for entrepreneurs to comply with legal requirements, the Commission is working on a project called ‘Single Digital Gateway’ that aims at making applicable rules more transparent and putting online all administrative procedures for businesses. In such a climate, the collaborative economy has indeed the potential to hit the ground running. Another thing that Romania could do is to promote platforms, and the collaborative economy. This can be done by showing to the general public that these business models, where assets are being shared via a website, are safe and trustworthy; in our jargon – emphasize that platforms can correct for information asymmetry and moral hazard.
Could you briefly talk to us about your daily activities? How does a work day look like for a European ‘fonctionnaire’?
I think that, like any other ‘policy maker’ in an (inter)national institution, there are more creative days, and less creative days. On a creative day, you think about problems that European citizens face (like the issues of trust or administrative burden I mentioned above) and how to solve them, and/or you design strategies of how to convince Member States that the solutions you propose are the most attractive, efficient and cost-effective. On less creative days, there are meetings lined up, some could build valuable collective intelligence but they are also time-consuming. My favorite are those days when I go on mission, like this one in Bucharest, because I can see the real face of Europe: I meet Europeans in person and for me this is the most efficient test for the policies we design back in Brussels.
Could you describe your journey to Brussels? What is your advice for students studying European affairs who would like to join the European institutions?
I see myself as a political scientist converted to a policy-maker. I have a Masters degree in public administration from Columbia University, a PhD in political science from the University of Pittsburgh and I teach EU policies at Vesalius College here in Brussels. But my journey to Brussels started actually when I was part of the team negotiating Romania’s accession to the EU, and it’s not a coincidence that around the same time I got a degree in international relations and European integration from SNSPA – the Romanian School of Government. When I think back at those times, I realize that it has been a long journey, both for me and for Romania. My experience in the US opened my eyes in many ways, but more importantly it enabled me to come to Brussels and get a position among the advisers of the President of the Commission (back then called Bureau of European Policy Advisers). I strongly believe that having been immersed in the ‘American dream’, and these are not empty words, having to do things ‘the American way’, has endowed me with invaluable skills that allow me now to look at Europe from a more critical angle and within a bigger picture. I have been heavily using this set of skills both while working on the governance of the European Semester (for me a good exercise in designing and testing policies – which I teach my students) and now on the digitalization of the Single Market, which is probably the most forward-looking, tech-savvy position I have ever had.
For students studying European affairs, I would have the same advice as for the students in my class: Work hard, think creatively, develop your talents, and then come to Brussels and jump in with both feet! And keep in mind that there is nothing that opens the eyes as much as an experience outside of your country, so: Go study abroad!
Do you have a favorite topic you would like to talk to us about? And a message for the readers of European Talks?
One of my favorite topics nowadays, of course related to the collaborative economy, is ‘participatory leadership’, also known as ‘the art of hosting’. This is a new method of organizing meetings and events that does away with power-point presentations and speeches but instead builds on a wonderful hidden treasure – collective intelligence and creativity. The tools of participatory leadership allow people to be creative in unexpected ways; meetings or conferences that would otherwise be boring are transformed into sources of energy and streams of innovative ideas. I am proud to say that the Commission is becoming a modern organization, as our policy-making is increasingly relying on participatory leadership techniques. I have to add here that I use these methods in the classroom as well: we start and end in a circle, and I no longer use simple lectures. I have my students listen with a purpose for specific threads when I lecture, they have to re-interpret what they heard and we draw mind maps with a content that they produced, in a sense we are co-responsible for what is being discussed during class time.
My message for the readers of European Talks (Convorbiri Europene) is this: Europe is being built everywhere with Europeans. I have found people here in Bucharest who truly feel European at heart. I am proud of them and you should be as well!
I also have a message for European Talks: For me, you are the New York Times of Romania. Good luck!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this interview belong solely to the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the European Commission.
Dana Puia Morel, policy officer at the European Commission was interviewed by Alina Bârgăoanu, director of Convorbiri Europene
Read also this article by Florina Pînzaru