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20th Nov 2018

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EU should keep out of innovation's way, Wikipedia-founder says

  • Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales says that to encourage innovation, policy-makers should keep out of the way (Photo: wikipedia.org)

To encourage innovation in Europe, policy-makers should just keep out of the way, Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales has said.

"I agree with the idea of streamlining and simplification. The only thing is that I would be much more extreme," he told EUobserver on Tuesday (8 May) on the sidelines of a conference in Brussels on EU innovation policy organised by global accounting firm Ernst & Young.

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"The most important thing that Europe needs to do to spur innovation is to eliminate barriers," he added. "To make it easier for investors and entrepreneurs to start businesses and to make it easier to fail."

Compared to his native US, founding a company in Europe is famously burdensome - even though big differences exist between the north and the south of the continent.

In the US, the whole process does not have to take longer than five minutes. In Greece, it can take up to ten months.

Wales, who recently started work as an (unpaid) advisor to the UK government in London, is a strong believer in the free market.

According to Wikipedia, he is “a self-avowed objectivist-to-the-core, referring to a philosophy emphasizing reason, individualism and capitalism”.

He said that government funding often “seems like a way to help, but it actually may be doing more damage than good,” citing “unintended consequences”.

“There is a lot of tax money being spent on things that entrepreneurs and investors would not [spend money on],” he said. “And the reason why they do not is because they make no economic sense.”

The result, said Wales, is that “instead of getting a genuine, world-class infrastructure, you get some sort of government-funded mess that does not quite work.”

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The efforts of the EU to turn the old continent into an “innovation union” are largely unknown to business leaders, according to a survey by global accounting firm Ernst & Young.

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