The goal is for Germany and the EU to devise a uniform digitisation strategy. A long-overdue appeal to this effect is now in the public domain. The appeal, taking the form of an open letter, is addressed by Angela Merkel, Mette Frederiksen, Sanna Marin and Kaja Kallas to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The four heads of government call on the EU to work towards digital sovereignty.
The appeal comes not before time. After long receiving scant attention, these demands are clearly gaining traction in the current situation. The Covid crisis has laid bare the EU's dependence on other continents, both in the development and use of digital tools. For example, when it comes to video conferences we always have to resort to American providers. Deficiencies are emerging at both national and European level. The purpose of the Digital Decade, as proclaimed by Ursula von der Leyen, is to make good these shortcomings. Merkel and the heads of government are calling for an “action plan for greater digital sovereignty ”, taking the form of a set of strategic measures. The goal is to finally achieve European independence and put an end to the technological dependency that has arisen over recent years.
The innovative spirit of bygone days
The existence of this dependency is apparent, for instance, from the fact that the vast bulk of the most recent technological innovations arose outside Europe. One may ask why. Is Germany not a land of innovators, of scientific discoveries and technical inventions? The car, the dynamo, even the forerunner of the modern computer have their origins here. In addition, Germany was and remains a country with one of the world's best infrastructures (industry, automotive, electricity, gas, water, supply and disposal). Despite this, the digital infrastructure has been a long time coming. This can be clearly seen, for example, in the slow expansion of fast data lines via 5G or fibre optics. We have already proven that we can be an innovation leader. Then why not also in digitisation?
Approaches taken by international competitors
In the past, we were inventors and innovators, today we play the role of a consumer in the digital sector. Nowadays we see ourselves as consumers rather than creators of digital innovation.
Consumers’ self-image derives from an international comparison of digital creation. In the USA, especially in Silicon Valley, extensive investments have been made in digitisation. This generous financial backing has laid a solid foundation for experimentation and research, which are key to all innovation. The USA wants to be a digital doer, and as such constantly works towards the ecosystem of the future. But it is not only in the West that a lot is going on. A vast amount of development can also be observed in the East. China, 10 years ago a consumer of technology, has now become one of the biggest drivers of innovation. China owes this change to its long-term digitisation strategy within the framework of a planned economy. The state-imposed vision has been successfully implemented through political control, as a result of which China has a strong digital profile in today's global market.
The best of both worlds, based on European values
Mit den richtigen Maßnahmen muss verlorene Zeit aufgeholt werden. Wir sollten uns die Investitionskultur der Amerikaner zum Vorbild nehmen. Zudem sollte die Regierung dringend Bereiche wie das Gesundheitssystem, Schulen und Bildung allgemein, Infrastruktur und Verwaltung digital transferieren. Mit diesen digitalen Strukturen werden die entsprechenden Rahmenbedingungen für die Unternehmen geschaffen. Ein digitales Ökosystem sorgt dafür, dass die Unternehmen die volle Wirkung ihrer digitalen Innovationen entfalten können.
If we take the right measures lost time can and must be made up. We should take the investment culture of the Americans as an example. In addition, the government should digitalise sectors such as the health system, schools and education in general as a matter of urgency. These digital structures put in place the right framework for companies. A digital ecosystem ensures that companies can bring to bear the full efficacy of their digital innovations.
But although we may draw inspiration from the positive aspects of American and Chinese digital culture, we should view with caution their attitudes towards data protection. Here too the EU needs an independent and unified strategy.
For us, cybersecurity is a fundamental issue. For Americans data, including personal data, is a thing to be used for maximum value creation. For the Chinese, on the other hand, data also serves to control and steer the population. Caution is called for here. Though we want European data sovereignty, we should bring this about on the basis of liberal European values. Europe is responsible for the secure and appropriate handling of people's data. We need to regain sovereignty over digital products. Who programs the system determines the rules of the game. This is the only way in which we will have the opportunity to bring our European values to bear when creating these systems.
If we want to make these values a reality at digital level too, we have to change from being a digital consumer to a doer.