TOWARDS A EUROPEAN DIGITAL WORLD
Do Institutions drive into the right direction?
TOWARDS A EUROPEAN DIGITAL WORLD
Do Institutions drive into the right direction?
Going further along the path undertaken at the beginning of 2021,through its new Digital Package, the Commission is proceeding further towards the definition of its AI policy, trying to cope with the rapid evolution of the area, and, especially, with the warp speed with which the supreme authorities of both superpowers (USA and China) are defining and implementing their priorities.
The Commission has issued now the COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS 2030 “Digital Compass: the European way for the Digital Decade” (EUROPEAN COMMISSION Brussels, 9.3.2021 COM(2021) 118 final)
The document, which starts by the definition of the new role of digitalisation after Covid, follows a “project management” approach to AI policies inaugurated by the corresponding Chinese documents and followed also in the Schmidt Report to the Congress of the US:
“Analysis made by Commission services for the recovery estimated at €125 billion per year the needs for ICT investment and skills to close the gap with leading competitors in the US and China. The European Investment Bank has flagged the risk that instead of increasing their investments, 45% of firms would reduce them after the COVID-19 crisis.”
We don’t think that it is just a matter of money, but much more of culture, political will, context, strategy, governance:“At the same time, it needs to carefully assess and address any strategic weaknesses, vulnerabilities and high-risk dependencies which put at risk the attainment of its ambitions and will need to accelerate associated investment”.
1.Digital Sovereignty: a wishful thinking or the trace of a French dissenting opinion?
Here the question of European Digital sovereignty comes out, which, again, is not just a legal one, but first of all, a cultural, political, technical and military one:
“That is the way for Europe to be digitally sovereign in an interconnected world”.
Unfortunately, this sovereignty does not exist presently, either in the digital, or in the real, world, as shown, e.g., by the vaccine’s chaos. The convergence of the exceeding market, technical and political force of the GAFAM and the extra-territorial reach of US law renders impossible to Europeans to act freely in the digital world:
Surely, these ten years offer to us a last occasion for acquiring such sovereignty. However, the body of the document does not mention any of the actions which, also according to critics of European Sovereignty, would be necessary for going forward in the direction of digital sovereignty: cultural and political debate on the essence of ICT; State promotion of European Digital Champions; European Cyber-intelligence and Cyber-Army; Rule-of-law implementation of Antitrust, Tax and Privacy Law and of the decisions of the Court of Justice and of the EDPB; coordinate upskilling of enterprises and citizens/workers.
As concerns, in particular, Rule-of-Law compliance, the document states that “The digital principles are rooted in primary EU law, notably the Treaty on European Union (TEU), the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, as well as in secondary legislation.
This European way for the digital society is also based on ensuring full respect of EU fundamental rights:
-Freedom of expression, including access to diverse, trustworthy and transparent information,
-Protection of personal data and privacy, and right to be forgotten,
-A secure and trusted online environment”
It recognizes that:”However, the crisis also exposed the vulnerabilities of our digital space, its increased dependency on critical, often non-EU based, technologies, highlighted the reliance on a few big tech companies, saw a rise in an influx of counterfeit products and cyber theft, and magnified the impact of disinformation on our democratic societies”
Digital technologies should foster the Green New Deal: “Digital technologies can significantly contribute to the achievement of the European Green Deal objectives. The uptake of digital solutions and the use of data will help in the transition to a climate neutral, circular and more resilient economy. The substitution of business travel by videoconferencing reduces emissions while digital technologies allow greener processes in agriculture, energy, buildings, industry or city planning and services, thus contributing to Europe’s proposed goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and a better protection of our environment. “
This backwardness constitutes thus a hindrance for the European Green Deal (which the Commission has inserted in the first place of its programs, since the inability to master advanced digital technologies will force us to become still more dependant on GAFAM):
2.How will the Digital Compass Work?
The Digital Compass will be based on an enhanced monitoring. It will include the means to deliver the vision and set out key milestones
The document confirms that EU digital policies have been conceived first of all for SMEs.
This choice is tightly connected with another traditional aspect of Europe’s digital policies, the decentralisation via a multiplicity of technology hubs, according to the model of the German Fraunhofer Institute.Unfortunately, this approach is more likely to achieve a slow, grassroots, development, than a disruptive change, which, on the contrary, should be required.
As all EU documents of this period, the digital compass represents a step forward in the recognition of basic realities of digital geopolitics, but, because of the slow paceof such recognition, it constitutes an objective obstacle to the recovery of the international role of Europe, which the Commission purports to pursue:”The degree of digitalisation of an economy or society has been shown not only to be a critical underpinning of economic and societal resilience, but also a factor in global influence. As the pandemic has highlighted the extent to which digital policy is never value-neutral, with competing models on offer the EU now has an opportunity to promote its positive and human-centric vision of the digital economy and society.”
However, up to now, nobody has been able to define exactly what is the human-centric vision of the digital economy and society, as different from the bare continuation of present-days society, dominated by web conformism, massive surveillance, de-personalisation, monopoly of the GAFAM. The purported advantage of the European “humanocentric” vision is discredited by two facts: that, presently, Europeans are exclusively consumers of digital services provided by American monopolists, without any relevant contribution from their part; that therefore, the good principles, rules and judicial decisions of the UE cannot be implemented in any areas: defence law, antitrust, tax law, privacy law, as shown by official documents of European Institutions, such as the Echelon and Prism reports, the decisions of the Court of Justice in the Schrems Cases and the resolutions of the EDPB in the Microsoft case.
It is doubtful whether the enthusiasm for EU-cooperation diffused in the last period within EU environments will help or further hinder the search for European Digital Sovereignty: “EU has proposed to establish a new EU-US Trade and Technology Council, to deepen our trade and investment partnership, strengthen our joint technological and industrial leadership, develop compatible standards, deepen research collaboration, promote fair competition and ensure the security of critical supply chains.”
The Commission hopes that “the EU’s international digital partnerships will promote alignment or convergence with EU regulatory norms and standards on issues such as data protection, privacy and data flows, the ethical use of AI, G20 and the OECD with respect to a global consensus-based solution to address the taxation of the digital economy.”…as well as “a single decentralised internet, based on a single world wide web, and a use of technology that respects individual freedoms and promote a digital level playing field.”
Unfortunately, this is not the present situation, when the Western Internet is not decentralised, but, on the contrary, is centralised in the Silicon Valley, under the control of GAFAM and Deep State, with Europe being just a passive player. Under the present conditions, the EU-US Trade and Technology Council proposed by the Commission would just be a pale shadow of the new Digital Competitivity Council of the US, proposed by the Chairman of Google and having as objective to reaffirm US leadership (ignoring completely the EU, but favouring UK, Five Eyes, Quad and even “the Four Seas Initiative” .
We doubt that, within such context, the aspirations of Europe for a Digital Sovereignty will be satisfied. But, without a Digital Sovereignty, Europe will go on with its uninterrupted crisis.