European Public Sphere Towards Digital Sovereignty for Europe
Europe can strengthen its digital sovereignty by creating a sovereign European digital ecosystem that is democratically account- able to its citizens. A digital ecosystem that observes European values such as transparency, openness and privacy protection, even in its technical design, can create a digital public sphere that offers fair terms of access and use, strengthens the public debate and safeguards the plurality that forms a key part of Europe’s identity. This sphere would be open to everyone, both within Europe and beyond – the key to Europe’s digital sovereignty lies not in isolationism but in the creation of ambitious alternatives.
The current coronavirus crisis has shone a light not only on how digital technology is increasingly penetrating every area of our lives, but also on just how dependent Europe has become on non-European platform operators. Europe is losing its influence over the digital public sphere at a time when it has taken on a central role in the continent’s economic and social life. As well as diminishing Europe’s economic competitiveness and thus the prosperity of European society, this poses a particularly serious threat to people’s individual freedom and privacy and to Europe’s democratic values. The time has come for both the member state and European Union levels to demonstrate the common political will to actively shape a digital public sphere that provides a basis for democratic debate, public opinion-forming and respect for European values, and to develop and establish an open European digital ecosystem that offers a genuine alternative. If incorporated into the special funding measures to overcome the coronavirus crisis, this European Public Sphere (EPS) can also provide a huge opportunity for European companies and start-ups, thereby helping to boost value creation in Europe.
This paper describes how a European Public Sphere can be es- tablished as an alternative European ecosystem, and sets out
the concrete measures that will be necessary in order to do so. These include:
§ Design of a technology infrastructure for delivering the digital public sphere as a public service.
§ Formulation of a technology strategy characterised by modularity, interoperability, openness and transparency that enables continuous development and a diverse range of business models.
§ Establishment of a governance entity such as a European Digital Agency or agency network, together with an alliance of European actors including content, service and infrastructure component providers, civil society initiatives and research institutions.
§ Government funding coupled with European regulation to kickstart the establishment of an open, European digital ecosystem for the development and operation of the key technological components and products for a digital public sphere.
§ Requirement for all the digital ecosystem’s actors to adopt a “values by design” approach.
These measures will enable the establishment of a trusted digital public sphere for the citizens of Europe that puts European values first and that facilitates crossborder services and a dialogue between people who live in different countries and speak different languages.
Together with key partner France, and in conjunction with the European Commission and European Parliament, the Trio Presidency of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia can initiate the European Public Sphere as an ambitious, pan-European development project. Provided that they receive the necessary backing and financial support from government, stakeholders from the private sector, culture, civil society and academia are ready to create an alternative European digital ecosystem.