European Digital Strategic Autonomy: “China is not a model to follow”.

Potsdam, 21 October 2022. In the changing international security and economic landscape, the notions of ‘sovereignty’ and ‘autonomy’ have been acquiring an unprecedentedly central role in EU political and policy agendas. ‘Strategic autonomy’ has already become the dominant conceptual framework setting the EU’s long-term development. Another critical field is the digital domain, which is a lever for the fourth industrial revolution, while at the same time an international battlefield of its own.
The increasing digitalisation of our societies, affecting both private and public interests, is a major factor in shaping Europe’s future.

At the M100 Sanssouci Colloquium, Strategic Working Group I addressed the question of how the EU can develop a long-term Digital Strategic Autonomy (DSA) strategy to strengthen its position in the international digital domain of tomorrow, complement the security aspect of “strategic autonomy” and redefine its relations with allies and rivals.

The working group was introduced by impulses by Huberta von Voss, Managing Director ISD Germany, and Prof. Dr Paul Timmers from the Oxford Internet Institute. Dr Antonio Nestoras, Head of Policy & Research, European Liberal Forum, moderated the working group and summarised the results of the discussion.

Dr Antonios Nestoras, ELF

Key points:
• It is currently difficult for Europe to be autonomous. This raises all kinds of questions and policy conundrums for policymakers in Brussels and European capitals because that is the essence of strategy: deciding where and when to be autonomous.

• The big gamble for the future: deciding when we need to work with the United States, what the terms of engagement and cooperation with the United States will be, or what kind of institutional governments the transatlantic partnership will have in the future to be effective.

• We need to redefine the terms of engagement with our (sustainable) rivals: What is China’s role in 5G connectivity, 5G development and 5G rollout on our continent? We need to be very specific and careful in regulating different sectors.

Huberta von Voss, ISD

• How is this compatible with our values, which the EU has promoted and protected over the last seven decades? In other words: We should not legislate or create online frameworks or industrial frameworks that are not compatible with our values. In this respect, we also have to consider the protection of democracy – it’s a balancing act.

• There is a lot of digital strategy autonomy fatigue in Brussels. On the other hand, it is put on the table at the higher administrative level as an important goal for the EU. One can see that strategic digital autonomy, although initially suspected of being a French, Gaullist concept, is now making the rounds, even in the public debate in Germany, and is being seriously considered by the Scandinavian countries and in the South.

• Despite some pessimism and initial scepticism, the concept will dominate the political debate in Brussels and beyond in the foreseeable future.

• We should watch what happens in the United States and learn from the good and bad experiences there.

• If the EU wants to move forward, it has to create a strong single market. Each national market alone is too small for being successful. That is the only real chance to develop our own strong European business in the digital field.

• China is not a model that should be followed. We do not share any values with China – neither how they use the Internet, nor how they regulate and control it. This is the exact opposite of what the EU wants to achieve with regulation in Europe.

Prof. Dr Paul Timmers, University Oxford

• We need closer cooperation in the European Union and greater awareness and interest in this issue, which is as important as it is widely neglected. Because the issue affects us all: our prosperity, our consumption, the way we live, what films we watch and how, what music we listen to, how we use online platforms and the internet in general.

• For this, we need rules that do not restrict and control consumers, but enable a European marketplace for digital business, so that the EU becomes competitive in this area as well.

• Since the EU’s interests do not always coincide with those of the United States, we need to be able to act autonomously. Therefore, an institutional structure for the transatlantic partnership should be created, for example along the lines of the Trade and Technology Council (TTC), a transatlantic political body that serves as a diplomatic forum for coordinating technology and trade policy between the United States and the European Union. This model could be applied to other areas to provide some structure to the EU’s most valuable and longest-standing alliance and to create forums for transatlantic cooperation.

This event is organised by the European Liberal Forum in cooperation with (member organisations’ names). Co-funded by the European Parliament. The views expressed herein are those of the speaker(s) alone. These views do not necessarily reflect those of the European Parliament and/or the European Liberal Forum.