With a group of four people: Joost van Iersel (former member of Dutch Parliament for the CDA; Senior Advisor at the European Policy Centre), Willem Korteweg (former CIO, former Director of the Leading Edge Forum), Paul Timmers (former Director at the European Commission; Research Associate at Oxford University, Adjunct Professor at the European University Cyprus) and myself (see this website), we have started the “Themagroep-Digitaal-Soeverein-Europa” (https://lnkd.in/g9TMEZHu) on LinkedIn.
The aim is to have a discussion with interested parties on how to make Europe digitally stronger through publications, comments and possibly webinars. Anyone who is interested can join this LinkedIn group. In principle, anyone can submit pieces for discussion, which will be published in this group after approval by us. It may be decided at a later stage to also or exclusively set up an English version.
There are a number of issues that particularly concern us:
1/ First of all, the digital resilience of Europe. It hardly needs explaining that the rapid digitisation brings with it numerous threats to the Member States of the European Union, as well as to Europe as a whole. Most governments lack the knowledge to be able to fend off targeted attacks by cyber criminals or hostile states. This concerns various types of threats. There are threats to extort money from organisations or governments. This is often done by hijacking computer systems. Another threat is the theft of knowledge, or digital espionage. Furthermore, there may be digital threats aimed at forcing parties to grant certain favours or to threaten or paralyse countries or organisations digitally.
Another form of threat is the acquisition of knowledge in technology and digital areas by students and scientists from non-European countries. They often study at European educational institutions or participate in university projects. Greater attention needs to be paid to ensure that strategic or crucial technological knowledge does not prematurely disappear to third countries through this route.
A third form of threat is the theft of data through internet-connected technology. A well-known case is that of Huawei. The company was and still is suspected of possibly transmitting data to the Chinese government through telecommunications equipment. In principle, any technology with an internet connection is a danger. After all, all data can be transmitted to third parties through the internet. Therefore, telecom, mobile equipment, and associated software should preferably be purchased from companies in European countries or from loyal allies.
Since individual Member States are not able to build up sufficient knowledge and strength in each individual area mentioned, pan-European cooperation will have to be sought in order to counter these threats and to formulate a common policy for digital resilience.
2/ Another issue is Europe’s digital lag behind the US, China, and a number of Asian countries. It is clear that Europe is at risk of falling far behind in the digital field. Although there is a lot of knowledge present in universities and we see many companies starting up in Europe, startups almost always disappear after a few years, mainly moving to the US to flourish there. Europe has no Big Tech companies, and there are many reasons why such companies do not emerge in Europe. The obstacles that cause this should be removed to prevent Europe from falling further behind. With the new technological phenomenon of AI, the same threat looms again. The American Big Tech companies have, of course, embraced this technology and will come up with numerous innovations in this field at a high pace.
Closing the digital gap will again need to take shape through more pan-European cooperation. Large new technology areas such as AI, photonics, and robotics are best addressed through intensive collaboration, as was done in the past with nuclear technology (Euratom), airplane technology (Airbus), and space technology (ESA).
3/ Another issue is Europe’s digital dependence on non-European technology. Not having enough of its own technology means that Europe is increasingly becoming technologically, and therefore strategically, dependent on non-European companies. As we have seen during the coronavirus period with medicines, it is also risky for Europe if it can only continue to exist if other countries supply us with vital technology. Almost 100% of European companies run their computer systems on cloud services, mainly from American companies. The non-European countries that supply all this technology can, in principle, digitally shut down the whole of Europe with the push of a button.