Honourable Lord Mayor Jakobs,
Dear Matthias Platzeck
Esteemed Lord Weidenfeld,
Dear Mr. Klitschko,
Distinguished YanukovychLeaks representatives,
Dear Foreign Minister Kurz,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to have the honour of speaking with you here in this historic space at the Orangery in Sanssouci Park. Throughout the day, you have exchanged your views on the opportunities and risks of Big Data in the context of your Colloquium. Immediately following my speech, Vitali Klitschko – who I met just yesterday in Kiev – and representatives of YanukovychLeaks will be distinguished for their courageous commitment to the democratization of Ukraine. It is a good choice, and an important symbol of solidarity and encouragement.
In keeping with the topic of the Big Data Colloquium and the selection of your Ukrainian prizewinner, one word immediately comes to mind as a connecting element for my speech: Freedom! So tonight, let us think a bit about freedom. About the freedom allows our lives to burn brighter, but that always has to be defended anew, because it is always coming under attack yet again. I would like us to speak about the various challenges to freedom and how we can better defend it in some areas.
First comes the obvious: looking at the war in Ukraine, and considering President Putin’s irresponsible actions, one feels as though we have landed back in the days of the Cold War. The annexation of the Crimea, aggression in eastern Ukraine and the repeated breach of promises from Russia have made all of us very uneasy.
The unthinkable has happened: borders in Europe have once again been displaced by force. This is a bitter blow. Not only to the people on the Maidan who risked their lives to secure the freedom and future of their country, but to us all. Europe’s security architecture has come under attack – an architecture that we so painstakingly built after the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. A security architecture that keeps the peace on our continent and is meant to improve economic prospects. Now, the law of the jungle threatens to return to international relations.
As an international community of shared common values, we can and will not accept this affront. For this reason, we Europeans, the United States and others have issued sanctions against this Russian policy while continuing our diplomatic efforts. These sanctions have already hit the Russian economy very hard and they will become even harder if necessary. At the same time, we have to be honest with our citizens: sanctions will have economic consequences not only for Russia, but for us in Europe as well. And yet to us, freedom should – and indeed it must – be worth it.
There are other international trouble spots showing that the ‘end of history’ Francis Fukuyama predicted after the collapse of the Soviet Union has not occurred. The dream of a global triumph of liberal democracy has not come to pass – not yet at least. Because in these times, people are also being killed, tortured and traumatized in our neighbouring region to the south.
The rise of the jihadist – so-called – Islamic State (IS) is highly dangerous and we are all stunned to see the fanatical hatred with which this terrorist organisation kills all who do not share their fundamentalist doctrine. Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, the borders of Jordan, Israel, Turkey, and Iran are in immediate danger. This is also a direct attack on our own freedom, because the IS is not only concerned with its own expansion of power: everything IS does is an unequivocal affront to any free society and an international order founded on public international law.
The IS is also an attack on Europe. For this exact reason, Germany and other nations have delivered weapons to help those striving to drive back these jihadists. This is not a taboo or a new security doctrine, but the result of a serious balancing of interests.
It now seems so infinitely long ago that the flame of freedom was lit in North Africa. Until recently, photographs of the Arab Spring put a light in our eyes. The international public watched with fascination as young people as in northern Africa led a struggle for democracy and freedom – a shadow of disillusionment has settled since then. The Libyan state teeters on the brink of collapse, the military of taken control of Egypt again and thousands on the North African coast – desperate to flee the miserable lack of prospects that awaits them in their own country – use tiny boats to make their way across the sea. Too many people lose their lives. The quest for freedom and economic opportunity ends on the floor of the Mediterranean. This is a tragedy, and we must not allow this to happen. Conflicts in this troubled region will only be reduced when better social and economic opportunities are available. And vice versa: without such such prospects, we in Europe will continue to feel the impact.
It appears as though a new, international disorder has come about, with elusive enemies, asymmetric warfare, and regional conflicts with international repercussions. Many would like to turn a blind eye to these wars, crises and injustice. They are afraid that if we participate in conflict resolution – if we impose sanctions or if we deliver weapons – that we ourselves will be drawn into the conflict.
This impulse is only human. But looking away is not an option. Noted scholar Edmund Burke once remarked that, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’. Burke is right, and because of this, there is no sensible alternative to watching and taking action in a world that – thanks to real-time communication in the media – has become even more transparent than before. But if inaction and looking the other way are not viable options, then watching and taking action are imperative for anyone with a desire to defend freedom!
This is also true when it comes to defending freedom in our own societies. Do not allow us to sit back, relax and do nothing. Populists across Europe conduct their political business on the basis of fear. They wage polemics against religious communities and those who think differently. I myself am appalled by the tasteless, anti-Semitic breakdowns of late. The fact that synagogues in Germany need to be guarded is shameful, and not only in light of our history. Nor should we ever permit the burning of mosques.
We have the French Front National, the Golden Dawn in Greece, the German NPD, and other parties in Europe who sometimes very openly court fascist ideologies and firmly reject the notion of liberal democracy. The block of left- and right-wing radicals and populist parties has become much stronger in the last European elections. We must heed this as a warning, in part because the turnout in many elections is now less than 50%, making it very easy for such tendencies to achieve good election results. We cannot be indifferent to this fact if we value liberal civil society and our democratic social model!
The time has come to fight for freedom again. To me, in our present context, this does not mean moving towards a more and more heavily armed security state. Of course the security apparatus is necessary, particularly when it comes to combating the violent offences I have just described. We need it to defend democracy, even if we know – no later than the publications by Edward Snowden and the German NSU investigative committee were released – that security apparatuses must be effectively monitored by parliaments, so that they do not become independent and develop a dangerous momentum.
I consider it crucial that we learn speak about the foundations of our free society again. That we conduct a political debate and do not take freedom for granted or think of it as a God-given right.
First, entirely banal: it is critical that society want these fundamental rights based on free democratic principles, and defend them if necessary. Democracy thrives on civic commitment. How much easier this commitment is in our societies compared to the risks taken by Vitali Klitschko, YanukovychLeaks and many other, nameless freedom fighters around the world.
And, in this circle of distinguished editors and journalists, I want to add: the free press that serves high-quality journalism is indispensable to our democracy. Although freedom of the press is granted in our countries, too many journalists are still being intimidated, tortured and even murdered elsewhere. Every attack on journalists is an attack on free society!
But even here, we have to be vigilant. Freedom of the media and media pluralism do not run by themselves, even in free societies. There are no attacks on journalists or censorship here. Quite the contrary: there are still a wealth of good newspapers, electronic media and blogs in the Internet. But we have to be careful that rapid digitisation does not create dangerous concentrations in key areas. Pluralism is the fundamental basis of democracy. We need a diversity of opinions and represented alternatives, not a market concentration.
This is why we have antitrust authorities and offices – to prevent unfair competition. For example, while the German Federal Antitrust Office forced the Funke Mediengruppe (Germany’s third largest newspaper and magazine publisher) to sell several small TV listings magazines with a market share of 10% to a competitor – and this within the micro-market of printed TV program guides – Facebook almost simultaneously announced its takeover of Whatsapp, a 19-billion-dollar deal that stabilises its global social media monopoly.
Many of the – primarily American – Internet giants have a market share of 90% or more in their segment. We have to be careful that such technological innovations do lead to market concentrations that no one would want. ‘The winner takes it all’, as the new market rule of the digital Internet economy is so often described. What it is referring to is the rapid, international advancement of businesses that simultaneously set the global standards, collecting amounts of data so vast that they are beyond human comprehension.
But because our personal data is poised to become one of the most important future resources, and digital standards are the crucial infrastructure of the 21st century, they cannot be allowed to concentrate in the hands of a few private companies. Because despite all the positive effects of Big Data, it is also becoming easier and easier to control people. This is why we need rules that are based on our moral concepts. We need a Digital Charter of Fundamental Rights, because there is a limit to what companies – but also the state – should know about people. Not everything that is technically possible should be allowed.
Knowledge is power and the total control of the few over all of our data goes against the basic principles of free society. Likewise, market dominance in key technologies does not fit with our economic system of free competition – nor does it reflect our pluralistic societies. Yes, an overproportionate concentration of power goes against democracy!
What I have said is not, as some might think, a sweeping condemnation of successful companies such as Google, Amazon or Facebook. These companies are creative and innovative, which is why they are so successful. They are doing something completely normal, which is to take advantage of opportunities and penetrate new areas of business.
I do not begrudge them this success. Instead they are a daily reminder that we need to significantly improve the conditions for innovation in our European societies. We will do this – not only in the individual European countries, but all together as the EU. This will require a tour de force that I regard as an opportunity – even if it costs us billions of euros.
I also want European companies to be successful, and for us to catch up technologically. I want to bring back real competition for the best ideas. But this only works if we ensure that no one exploits a position of market dominance, thereby preventing competition. This is in fact the exact opposite of creativity and innovation. We in Europe will look carefully into this issue to see if more competition is needed in some areas of future technology, and improve the legal and financial conditions for our companies if necessary.
There is currently a case pending at the European Commission that, as you know, affects many publishers in Europe. This, as I mentioned it before, has to do with a company with market shares of 90% and more in some areas. Compare these figures with the ones I described before with the FUNKE decision, and it is easy to see that the standards here have slipped. If German and European companies can only expand under strict conditions and – for good reason – are subject to careful checks as to whether they can exploit a market dominant position, then the same rules should apply to global corporations that operate in our market.
Because the forthcoming decision has to do with no less than the pluralism in our societies, and because it has a significant impact on the European economy, I am convinced that the present Commission – with just a few weeks left in Office – will not come to a decision. The new European Commission should consider the situation very carefully. Diligence is surely better than haste.
As I said before: our European efforts will be directed primarily at meeting the challenges of the digital revolution from a business perspective. In the interest of everyone, and as President of the European Parliament, I would like to see that the next, successful innovations on the market come not only from Silicon Valley but also from European universities and startups. To do this, we also need a new willingness to take risks, a new culture of entrepreneurial daring. Because when a startup fails in California, entrepreneurs take this as an incentive to do it better next time, while a failed business project here often – too often – carries a lifetime penalty.
But already there are signs of a market gap that new and innovative companies could potentially enter – a gap that must be closed in the interest of preserving our freedom.
Personal information does not have to be collected during every online interaction, as we still see too often today. Data protection is a valuable commodity in our European societies, and perhaps this European approach is more representative of a future generation’s needs. I often wonder what it would have meant for the fight on the Maidan if the Ukrainian authorities had complete access to the freedom fighters’ data. If this were the case, perhaps Vitali Klitschko and the representatives of YanokovychLeaks would not be here with us today.
A great deal of innovation is possible in terms of providing online data security for companies as well. Because if companies have to worry that their data are being left out to the global Clouds of economic espionage, then finding another standard would be a good business model. I am sure that companies who want or even have to protect their data will opt for business locations offering them the greatest possible security. Perhaps then, European data protection, and the so often ridiculed and antiquated-seeming ‘Old Europe’, would prove the more modern, more attractive choice because it is a safer location.
To avoid any misunderstanding: I do not wish to draw any artificial boundaries in the digital world. A German or European Internet does not and should not exist. But I do want an Internet that is not above the law, and where an individual can enforce his or her basic rights. An Internet where our civil rights and liberties continue to apply, and that is safe and trusting. I want an Internet with plurality and alternatives.
Let’s talk about freedom. So that future freedom fighters like Vitali Klitschko and YanukovychLeaks stand a chance, and the dictators of the world have cause to tremble.
Thank you for your attention.