Calling for EU’s Strategic Autonomy in the Era of Global Internet Governance

Brussels, 28th August 2021 – At the first in series of webinars organized by the Europe – Asia Center, the ‘EU’s Strategic autonomy’ as the new central concept of the European project was at the core of the dialogue of high-level panelists.

The last European Council raised “strategic autonomy”1 to the level of a central concept for a new phase of the European project. Building European strategic autonomy on a horizontal – cross-policy basis is expected to – strengthen EU multilateral action, reduce dependence on external actors, and make the EU less vulnerable in areas such as energy, disinformation digital technology. With cyberspace governance becoming the new dimension of reality, amplified and transformed by the combined effect of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial intelligence (AI), the specific area of governance is still lacking consistent and less fragile policy framework, mitigating the growing geostrategic competition.

In the opening address, the Chairman of Europe – Asia Center, Amb. (ret.) Piet Steel said: “States around the world are making digital autonomy, technological supremacy, and innovation the cornerstones of their diplomatic, security and economic efforts. And the European Union is no exception. It’s laying the foundations of multiple sovereignty for the next 20 years.”

He furthermore addressed the significant impact that emerging technologies and increasing digitalization has made, becoming the prime drivers of globalization and international competition. It is in times of crisis, such as the world faced with Covid-19 pandemic, that importance digital transformation in all aspects of society was highlighted. In the EU thinking, technological autonomy and sovereignty are not contradictory with the new opportunities for multilateral cooperation and innovation, nor are there any contradictory developments with the rules-based international open trading system.

Following with keynote address to the panel, H.E. Violeta Bulc, Former EU Commissioner for Transport and Mobility (2014 – 2019) stated: “We should never forget that technology is only a tool, not the goal… We can actually give humanity another chance and evolve together with our knowledge, the proper tools that will keep us to thrive towards the next century.”

She furthermore addressed the lack of governance in the digital sphere, which through a range of global digital solutions continue entering every single area of our societal and individual engagement. And as the cornerstone of digital autonomy there must be trust, built first and foremost through personal (people to people) communication and relationship. The key question in era of Internet governance is furthermore on the ownership of data, where Europe is steering the ”user-rights centric” model, navigating between other imperatives of major nations. Those technological challenges pose a multilateral opportunity not for defining the more dominant systems, but rather the basic human principles that define humanity.

Following the keynote points, the expert panel reflected on some of the key issues raised. Ms. Mireia Paulo, from Faculty of East Asian Studies, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany highlighted the need for conceptualization of governance in internet era. “We also need to recognize that the more precise we want to be, the more difficult it will be to sometimes move forward. For that reason, maybe looking at which transversal areas would be also important to push forward on this autonomy“. She concludes that the key EU issue is both development and implementation of strategic autonomy in the existing geopolitical world, requiring a complex stakeholder involvement.

The chairman of Joint European Disruptive Initiative – JEDI, Mr. André Loesekrug-Pietr highlightedthe need for an understandingof the state of deep tech revolution that is creating impact on our societies. With today’s technological breakthroughs coming mostly from the convergence of different scientific disciplines, there is furthermore the need to change the existing business model imperative. It is the underlying business models that steer innovation and « the two key success factors in the technological century we are in, are the need to be long-term oriented, while on the other hand very contradictory remain the agile ».

Concluding the discussion, Dr Miguel Otero-Iglesias from IE School of Global and Public Affairs and Elcano Royal Institute added: “We are really in a moment where the United States and China for the next decades will compete in all areas, starting from trade wars and most recently the tech wars. So that’s the context. The key challenge is our operation with a very Euro-centric approach, from values and human rights that we perceive as the right way. The almost missionary kind of instinct, where I think we might be in an illusion.” He furthermore contextualizes the perspective of international political economy, where four key values exist: security, wealth, justice and freedom. And each global force has their most important, for instance, in the United States where most important value is wealth and the understanding that wealth will bring you freedom. European perspective on the contrary considers justice as most important, with our belief that justice and equality will bring us freedom. And it is due to such difference of values that persuasion for the new global governance in digital space is such a challenge – already on the EU level and ever more challenging in global multilateral dimension. He concludes with thought that “in interoperability between those ecosystems we create the global governance ecosystem and in context of great power rivalry, Europe might consider creating its own”.

Full webinar available on the link: https://youtu.be/-WEMM-5n7-A


For press enquiries:

Matic Gajšek, Deputy director, Europe – Asia Center

E: m.gajsek@europe-asia.org

M: + 31 63 452 75 80 / +47 922 89 871