Europe’s Digital Future: “Willing is not enough, we must do!”

6 March 2019

We use digitisation to our benefit in all aspects of our lives. We organise get-togethers with family and friends using instant messaging, we book holidays on travel websites. All of the world’s knowledge is just one click away – at least in our part of the world – thanks to the internet, even if the information we find is not always scientifically sound.

For some time now we have been able to delegate monotonous routine tasks to highly automated programs and process controls, creating the time and space needed to creatively engage with our companies’ core activities. Digital technologies such as cloud computing, big data and artificial intelligence have the potential to secure our continent’s competitiveness and thus our standard of living for decades to come. The medical field today employs comprehensive diagnostic databases and three-dimensional image analysis methods to provide improved diagnoses and qualitatively better healthcare. And contemporary eGovernment initiatives simplify conducting official business online and encourage broader public engagement in political processes and decisions.

At the same time we are threatened by data misuse, phishing attacks targeting our personal data and industrial espionage – and resulting losses to the economy add up in the billions. Modern cybersecurity is therefore ever more important and demands our best efforts!

The European Union, the international community and the scientific research sector have gone to great lengths to safeguard the economic advantages of digitisation and to erect effective protective measures to counter threats online. 

Data protection and security are not innovation killers

Important steps have been taken in the recent past in Europe to create the digital single market, such as the regulation on the free flow of non-personal data and the European Cybersecurity Act. Because we in Europe take a distinctly different view of the protection of privacy and the strongest network and information security, as evident in major breakthroughs such as the General Data Protection Regulation and the directive on security of network and information systems (NIS), this point of view has also been widely adopted amongst businesses and users. 

The Cybersecurity Act and the FFD-Initiative (“free flow of non-personal data”) were therefore logical follow-up efforts towards safeguarding the guarantees for data protection and cybersecurity that had been created and to boost the market opportunities that had been opened up through digitisation. These two policy initiatives provide the strongest momentum at this time for realising the full potential of the data economy to the tune of 4% of European GDP in 2020 and are therefore the primary engines behind achieving the fully realised digital single market.

With the Cybersecurity Act in 2017, the EU Commission introduced a far-reaching, pan-European package of measures to significantly improve defences against network attacks and the ability to respond to them. The scale of the cyber threat, with over 4,000 ransomware attacks every day, a 38% increase in security incidents and a general crime rate of 50% in some member states in 2018, demonstrates the urgent need to provide network and information security for the digital single market. This includes, among other things, cloud security certifications, for which strict technical and regulatory requirements must be met and which would improve trust in cloud computing services. 

Why soon every vote will count

As a passionate European, I would like our continent to move in a political direction that reflects our incredible intellectual history and pioneering achievements in global industrialisation, one that combines the most advanced digital technological developments with analogue social standards and cultural wealth. Only then will people rediscover their enthusiasm for Europe as they go about living their digital-analogue lifestyles.

This means we will have to abandon an exclusively neoliberal economic order and backwards-looking nationalisms alike. Europe is more than just an economic and monetary union. Voters would do well to remember this in May when they head to the polls: we all have it in our hands to change European politics. As Goethe once wisely counselled: “Willing is not enough, we must do!”