EC Highlights EU recovery plan and an ambitious digital agenda at EuroDIG

At the thirteenth European Dialogue on Internet Governance, EuroDIG, the EC highlighted the importance of a resilient Internet and better Internet governance for a green and digital renaissance.

The EU’s Director for Future Networks, Pearse O’Donohue delivered a keynote speech on the European Union’s approach to Digital Sovereignty. In this approach, citizens are in complete control of their personal data and their activities online, their rights are respected and guaranteed by the rule of law and appropriate legislative framework; and private companies and public institutions invest in every layer of the digital supply chain to boost European competitiveness and strategic autonomy.

Referencing the recent Coronavirus crisis, Mr O’Donohue stated that the Internet has allowed the uninterrupted functioning of many vital economic sectors; it has helped us all stay connected, work remotely and support our children’s learning. The Internet is also central in the fight against the virus, helping researchers to develop advanced models to predict the spread of the disease and support the search for treatments and for a vaccine.

Mindful of the need to be fully prepared for any possible future scenario, Mr O’Donohue called for continuous investment in Internet infrastructures and in research and development for improved technologies, protocols and standards to increase Internet security and resilience. He cautioned, “But this should never compromise the decentralised and distributed nature of the internet. On the contrary, internet governance fora, but also technology and standardisation bodies must continue to build on, and secure, a bottom-up, collaborative and multistakeholder environment.”

The EC has proposed a new recovery instrument, Next Generation EU, within a revamped long-term EU budget. In total, this European Recovery Plan will put € 1.85 trillion to help kick-start the economy. The proposed instrument focuses specifically on the green and digital transformations, with a particular attention devoted to resilience and sustainability.

Mr O’Donohue looked at the long-term scenario post Coronavirus, which he said is likely to trigger permanent and structural changes in societal and economic life: with more teleworking, e-learning, e-commerce, e-government. He highlighted the potential of developing a universally accepted e-ID – a public electronic identity – to allow for simple, trusted and secure access to digital services.

Mr O’Donohue outlined four elements necessary for a digital recovery:

  • Investment in more and better connectivity, including the rapid deployment of 5G, providing the necessary bandwidth for health, education, transport, logistics and media.
  • Stronger industrial and technological presence in strategic parts of the digital supply chain, including AI, cybersecurity, data and cloud infrastructure, 5G and 6G networks, quantum and Blockchain. The Commission will put extra effort to reduce the environmental footprint of the ICT sector and at the same time use digital technologies and data to drive the shift towards a clean, circular, competitive and climate neutral economy.
  • Build a real data economy as a motor for innovation and job creation, with common European data spaces in key sectors and areas, requiring data portability or access. This will be followed by a Data Act, which will establish the conditions for better access and control of industrial data. The Commission will also propose to make high value government datasets available for the common good through more open access for research, innovation and SMEs.
  • A fairer and more flexible business environment. The extended lockdown boosted internet shopping and online business models. This trend will only accelerate in the months and years to come, with more companies switching to digital to do business. However, the online environment is currently dominated by a number of large platforms. Their position – and their greater access to key data resources – has an impact on the ability of smaller European companies to start up, scale up or make the most of the Single Market. In this spirit, one of the aims of the new Digital Services Act will be to improve the legal framework for digital services, with clear rules for online platforms. It will offer greater security for consumers online, prevent the abuse of market power by platforms and ensure a fair market place with equal opportunities for smaller businesses.

Mr O’Donohue also announced a new Cybersecurity Strategy to boost EU-level cybersecurity cooperation, knowledge and capacity. Access the Communication, Europe’s moment: Repair and Prepare for the Next Generation here.

Reminding participants of the fact that the EC believes that the most appropriate model and mechanisms to govern the Internet includes the views of all the different stakeholders involved, Mr O’Donohue emphasised the importance of contributing to an initiative of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, on Digital Cooperation. The Secretary General just proposed a Roadmap for Digital Cooperation in which all stakeholders play a role in advancing a safer, more equitable digital world.