Digital technology has become the new theatre of international conflicts between states but also with industrial players, as Edward Snowden revealed in his time on the surveillance practiced by the NSA. This is a new challenge facing States, economic players and citizens themselves, in order to preserve their digital sovereignty. Internet Governance should no longer be seen solely as an "a posteriori" regulation of the technological buildings put in place by industrialists, but rather as a co-design in which European citizens and companies should be involved in defining the norms and standards of these technologies. (1).
An 26 May European voters will vote to elect their representatives in the European Union Parliament. In a period of great political instability, the Union will be playing its future. Voters are expecting a vision and a direction to meet the many challenges of the future. Among these, digital technology has taken a unique and inescapable place. The EESC therefore encourages the European Union to make its model emerge.
Present in all fields and a bearer of undeniable advances, digital has become a strong economic and strategic marker. The American (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft - GAFAM) and Chinese (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi - BATX) giants are the major illustration of this. Their dominant position in the world and therefore in the Union, combined with commercial and ethical practices that are far removed from the principles to which the Union is committed, raises a major issue in terms of sovereignty.
Faced with these giants, the European Union must also be able to carry its own model and to develop its own distinct path. Just as several political worlds are conceivable along the dividing lines, several digital worlds are conceivable according to the strategic choices that will be made.
In order for the European Union to return to the principles of an open and decentralised Internet, to support the European players in the sector and to position itself on promising technologies (artificial intelligence, blockchains, etc.), the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (EESC) recommends in particular that :
-• Strengthen the regulation of digital platforms at EU level
The EESC considers that the conditions for fair competition in the European digital market must be established. To this end, the EESC recommends strengthening the work of persuasion and the building of alliances at European and international level in order to achieve the adoption of a common tax regime for large digital companies by 2020. In the meantime, the EESC encourages the Member States that are in favour of this to cooperate more closely on the introduction of a GAFAM tax, along the lines of the one decided on by France.
The EESC recommends that the principles and values of the European Union in the data economy and net neutrality be guaranteed. To this end, the EESC recommends strengthening the principle of free and explicit consent of users to the collection and use of their personal data. Similarly, the EESC recommends strengthening the legal regime governing the liability of platforms by giving them their own status and reaffirming the principle of net neutrality, under the supervision of an independent authority ("DataWatch").
- To foster the emergence of a digital ecosystem in line with the principles and values of the European Union
The EESC believes that a favourable environment for an open digital ecosystem in Europe should be created. To this end, the Council advocates strengthening cooperation on cyber security between the European Union, its Member States and its strategic partners, and referring the matter to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) with a view to establishing a new international standard in this area.
The EESC also believes that the emergence of such an ecosystem will require support for the development of European digital technology. This support could take the form of the creation of a Euro Tech label, a European one-stop shop and a funding incentive scheme to improve access to digital technologies for young European businesses.
The EESC advocates investing in future technological solutions in order to make the European Union a major player in the data economy by 2020. The EESC recommends the adoption of an "Artificial intelligence and disruptive technologies" package, including a strategy for the deployment of artificial intelligence and a regulatory framework promoting its ethical use, to be implemented by a European Agency for Disruptive Innovation. In the same way, the European Union should take a position and invest in the fields of blockchain use and open-source.
Blandine Kriegel, Philosopher and University Professor notes that "The intensification of communication has brought an increase in freedom, education...Information is now accessible to all on the Web. The deployment and multiplication of digital exchanges have, moreover, brought about some strong political changes (Arab Spring...). However, this increased freedom through digital technology is also accompanied by an increase in risks, including liberty killers. Sovereignty is now under threat. It is no longer only the power of states, but also the decision-making power of individuals over their own lives that is currently being called into question. »
The issue of personal data has become crucial, and computer security has become a national security issue, as has theexplains Libération 13 February: in France, the idea of "digital sovereignty" is increasingly giving way, on the part of the authorities, to that of "strategic digital autonomy". The idea is not to exclude interdependence, but to "choose the modalities".
It is therefore a subject that needs to be thought about at European level. Digital sovereignty does not mean turning in on oneself, and should not be the subject of a restrictive concept. The aim is not to talk about protectionism, but to create a quality offer at national and European level. For in the digital field, the battle will be won on innovation and the quality of offers.
It is also necessary to strike the right balance between respect for privacy, business secrecy and the tremendous growth potential of digital technology.