The city of Linz is considered a digital beacon of Austria. With a multitude of offers, the city of Linz has created a range of “Open Commons” that are unique in Austria and has also been setting trends throughout Europe for many years: 120 Internet hotspots in public places throughout the city, free WLAN in all trams, free “Public Space Servers” for all Linzers or the free provision of administrative data (Open Government Data) are just the most important examples. Linz is also home to the Ars Electronica Festival, which places the interactions between art, technology and society at the centre of its exhibition spaces, the Tabakfabrik, which in its 38,148 square metres has become a home for Austria’s creative industry and serves as an incubator for it, and Peak Technology, which is one of the global leaders in lightweight construction and composites and has supplied parts of the European Ariane rocket.
The European Parliament’s intergroup, RUMRA* & Smart Villages, together with the European Smart Villages Forum, undertook a fact finding mission to Linz and its surroundings to explore what lessons we can learn from the Linz example for Europe as a whole.
Austrian MEP Hannes Heide, who initiated the trip together with Slovenian MEP Franc Bogovič, said: “We want to make Europe decentralised and regional in order to make the European Union tangible for the people. Rural areas and medium-sized cities have the potential to stand for innovation and digitalisation. If we can offer high-quality services in our rural areas with innovative technologies, life in the countryside will be more attractive. We could experience this clearly during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Franc Bogovič added: “We need to address the increasing depopulation of our rural areas. A 5G smart farm and the establishment of Dronetech in a small town like Leonding are excellent examples of how our demographic problem can be turned around by attracting innovative companies. Only by increasing the quality of life and creating job opportunities can we reverse the negative trend of depopulation of our rural areas and make life in the countryside attractive again.”
The delegation from Brussels started their two-day programme with a visit to the “Paris, we are coming” municipality of Ottensheim, which is known for the area-wide installation of PV systems on municipal buildings, the expansion of micro-public transport systems and cycle paths, the promotion of green facades or flat roofs and sustainable energy management. Stefan Kaineder, Upper Austria’s regional minister for the environment and climate, said: “With the project ‘Paris we are coming’, we want to advance the path to climate-neutral transformation on the municipal side together with pioneering municipalities. The aim is to create a multifaceted blueprint for all Upper Austrian municipalities so that the whole of Upper Austria can set out on the path as quickly as possible. In addition to climate change adaptation measures, such as securing the water supply or containing the overheating of local squares, the reduction of greenhouse gases of the municipalities is at the centre of the project. To meet the greatest challenge in the history of mankind, we need the fastest possible reduction of all fossil emissions at all levels. Ottensheim has long been very much at the forefront of sustainable local development in many areas, so I am delighted that the beautiful Danube community is part of our climate protection project for municipalities.”
Austrian MEP Simone Schmiedtbauer agreed: “Digitalisation has fully arrived in rural areas and offers enormous opportunities for our municipalities and regions and their residents. Our task is to actively shape the process of digitalisation. Digital technologies can be used in agriculture and forestry, for example, to strengthen productivity and ecology at the same time. In Austria, we are already very far along in the expansion of digital infrastructure, not least thanks to the broadband initiative of our federal government. As an Austrian MEP, I am proud to be able to show my colleagues our successes so far in the digitisation of rural areas.”
The following day, the delegation visited the 5G Smart Farm Buschenschank in Leonding, which is operated by Huawei and Dronetech. With the help of 5G, drones help to monitor the vineyards and apply pesticides in a targeted manner, which significantly increases the harvest yield. “It is an honour for Huawei to present this important project to such a high-level delegation. We believe that the future of agriculture is digital and we want to contribute to this important issue with our technology,” said Harvey Zhang CEO of Huawei Austria.
“I am deeply impressed by the good connectivity of rural areas. This undoubtedly opens up many employment opportunities and helps citizens to benefit from the various advantages of digitalisation. We need more initiatives that leave no one behind,” said Bulgarian MEP Atidzhe Alieva-Veli.
In this context, Italian MEP Dino Giarrusso said: “I have heard a lot about smart agriculture and I am sure that it can be very useful to ensure a good development of our rural areas. I am looking forward to the possibility of creating a network also in Sicily and Sardinia, where some rural areas are still struggling and feel isolated. For this reason, we are planning an event in Sicily in June to push forward this interesting process and make the most of the collaboration between Huawei’s research centre and the University of Catania.”
CEO of PEAK Technology, Dieter Grebner, emphasised the growing space sector in Austria, during the visit of his company: “Through innovative developments in space technology, Austria can also participate in the international market as a global player. PEAK Technology has contributed significantly to this through pioneering projects, such as the development and production of the xenon fuel tanks for the new Galileo satellite navigation system.”
In this context, former Austrian MEP and President of SME Global, Paul Rübig, praised the Linz location: “Linz and PEAK Technology are an excellent example of the agility and innovative spirit of our business locations. PEAK built parts of the Ariane rocket. Not in Paris or London in an international corporation worth billions, but at a medium-sized company in Upper Austria. This is the future of Europe.” Adam Mouchtar, the coordinator of this trip for the intergroup in the European Parliament, was pleased about the successful realisation of this ambitious programme and said: “Now it is up to us to implement what we have learned and to inspire more regions in Europe from the European Parliament with the Linz example”.
“The Green Deal needs more raw materials, engineers and energy within the EU on base of a competitiveness test with impact and options assessment.”
A highlight of the trip was certainly the meeting with Linz’s Mayor Klaus Luger, who is one of the architects and visionaries of digital Linz. Mayor Luger shared his vision with the group: “It is always an honour to welcome international guests to Linz. I am particularly pleased that the MEPs want to see examples from Linz and get an overview of our technological advances as part of the Smart Villages Forum. With the tour of the Ars Electronica Center, we are presenting one of our most important technology, digitalisation and creativity competence centres. The delegation’s visit is further proof that Linz has made a name for itself throughout Europe as Austria’s innovation capital.”
During the delegation’s visit to Raiffeisenlandesbank Oberösterreich, which was the last stop of the Brussels delegation, CEO Heinrich Schaller emphasised the role Raiffeisen plays with regard to regional development and digitalisation: “Raiffeisen has always been a pioneer when it comes to securing the economic and future viability of rural areas. We are aware that, as Austria’s largest regional bank, we have a social responsibility and must preserve regional values. At the same time, it is essential that we manage the balancing act between the development of the regions and new technologies and digitalisation – both from the perspective of the banking business per se and in the interest of our corporate clients and investments. The SMEs in our federal state in particular are doing a great job and show great innovative strength. We are happy to support them in this as a financial partner.”
Adam Mouchtar, the coordinator of this trip for the intergroup in the European Parliament, was pleased about the successful realisation of this ambitious programme and said: “Now it is up to us to implement what we have learned and to inspire more regions in Europe from within the European Parliament, using the Linz example”.
*Rural, Mountainous and Remote Areas