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Brexit may freeze U.K. out of robotics, EU digital new wave

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. is at risk of missing out on the European Union’s booming digital market that spans robotics, battery-powered vehicles and three-dimensional printing.

That is the stark assessment of Austrian Economy Minister Margarete Schramboeck, who is preparing for the country to take over the EU’s rotating presidency.

“When the U.K. leaves the common market, then the rules won’t apply to them,” she said in an interview in Vienna on Wednesday. “We have some big challenges between Brexit and the digital common market.”

A new framework for the digital single market should be completed during Austria’s leadership of the 28-nation bloc in the second half of 2018, Schramboeck said, but U.K. companies may be frozen out if Brexit negotiations go poorly.

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Robotic arms, manufactured by Kuka AG, perform mock operations on handling contaminated barrels of sludge and debris at the National Nuclear Laboratory Ltd. in Workington, U.K., on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016. Sellafield, the 70-year-old home to Europe's largest nuclear site with 10,000 employees and its own rail service and police and fire departments looks its age and will eventually cost at least £90 billion to properly clean up, says Paul Dorfman, honorary senior researcher at the Energy Institute at University College London. Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Prime Minister Theresa May has said she wants total alignment with EU data rules after Brexit to continue the seamless exchange of information between businesses and consumers.

Austria’s comments indicate that access to the EU’s 415 billion-euro ($513 billion) digital market won’t be possible without compromising on other issues. Leaders have repeatedly rejected May’s approach as cherry-picking.

Bigger Challenges

For the 47-year-old former chief executive of Telekom Austria AG’s A1 unit, a bigger challenge than Brexit is ensuring European industry is ready to compete in global digitized markets, where information is a raw commodity that can be traded and manufacturers require automated production lines to compete.

Consumers and companies need to wrest ownership of data from multinationals such as Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc., she said. Austria also supports the proposed 3 percent revenue tax on large digital enterprises operating within the bloc.

“We have to ensure that European data is similarly protected and can be similarly used,” according to Schramboeck. Companies also need “machine-to-machine standards so that industries can build economies of scale.”

Schramboeck said she wants more research into artificial intelligence. In January, the EU funded a a 1 billion-euro EU supercomputing project that will create jobs with by AI-related technologies. The U.K. won’t be member to the initiative because of Brexit.