EU's new Digital Strategy for the next five years – will Europe become a trusted digital player?
4 min read
The European Commission launched the digital single market as early as 2015 to deliver its main legislative proposals, among them proposals for boosting e-commerce, ePrivacy, IP protection, the harmonization of digital rights, harmonized VAT rules and cybersecurity. While the EU Treaties do not contain any special provisions or information and communication technologies, the EU is allowed to take relevant actions within the framework of sectoral and horizontal policies, such as industrial policy; competition policy; trade policy; the trans-European networks; research and technological development and space; the approximation of laws for improving the establishment and the functioning of the internal market; the free movement of goods; the free movement of people, services and capital; education, vocational training, youth and sport. All these are among the key elements for a digital Europe.
Following the 2014 – 2019 Digital Single Market strategy, on February 19, 2020, the European Commission released a suite of documents that are expected to shape Europe's digital future. The Digital Strategy paper published by the European Commission sets out how it intends to position Europe as a leader in the digital world with respect to data, specifically via key objectives relating to digital technologies over the next five years. The released documents include the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence (AI"), the European Strategy for Data and the Digital Strategy. The EU's Digital Strategy takes an ambitious approach toward digital technological development, as well as toward the ways in which technology will be used to meet climate-neutrality objectives.
The White Paper on Artificial Intelligence and the European Data Strategy are the first pillars of the new Digital Strategy. The European Commission has proposed to invest €15 billion in the 'Digital, Industry and Space' cluster, with AI as a key activity to be supported, by way of which almost €2.5 billion are to be invested in deploying data platforms and AI applications. The aim of the framework is to mobilize resources to achieve an "ecosystem of excellence" and to create a unique "ecosystem of trust." The European Commission outlines several key requirements for high-risk AI applications that could consist of the following key features: training data; data and record-keeping; information to be provided; robustness and accuracy; human oversight; and specific requirements for certain particular AI applications, such as those used for purposes of remote biometric identification. The European Commission is soliciting comments on the proposals set out in the White Paper through an open public consultation available at https://ec.europa.eu/info/consultations_en. The consultation is open for comments until 19 May 2020.
The European Data Strategy aims to enhance the use of data enabling the development of new products and services within an interoperable data space. The aim of the strategy is to create a genuine single market for data, where personal and non-personal data, including confidential and sensitive data, are secure and where businesses and the public sector have easy access to huge amounts of high-quality data to create and innovate. The European Commission will present further measures later this year, such as a Digital Services Act to establish clear rules for all businesses wishing to access the single market and to strengthen the responsibility of online platforms. It will also propose a review of the eIDAS regulation1 , allowing for a secure electronic identity. Furthermore, the EU will put a strong emphasis on cybersecurity by promoting cooperation through a joint cyber unit that protects critical European infrastructure and strengthens the cybersecurity single market. The European Commission will further consider rules that will require key platforms to be more transparent about the functioning of their algorithms. The European Commission is also gathering feedback on the Data Strategy.
Impact on Big Tech
Within the Digital Service Act, the Commission may consider tougher rules on strengthening commitments from social media platforms to fight against fake news and other harmful content. This may include oversight of algorithms to avoid decisions being taken in "Black Boxes" on how these companies moderate content. Furthermore, the Digital Service Act promises to put more responsibility on internet companies for content uploaded by their users. The immediate aim of the European Commission is to open the digital markets and reduce barriers for startup companies, given that 90 percent of platforms in the EU are such start-p entities.
To summarize, the new policies and frameworks to come are expected to enable Europe to deploy cutting-edge digital technologies and strengthen its cybersecurity capacities. However, strict EU rules on the protection of consumers, the fight against unfair commercial practices, and personal data protection and privacy, continue to be a key agenda for the EU. As the main tech players focus on acquiring more and more personal and other valuable data, the European Commission, mindful of how these tech giants might hinder its cyber strategy, may implement stricter regulations aimed against these companies and other actors in the digital and internet economy.
1 Regulation (EU) No 910/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 2014 on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market and repealing Directive 1999/93/EC.
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