Three-part series: How Europe is dealing with digitisation – 2

Part two of the three-part blog series: Ambition Numérique – the pursuit of a free Internet

In France, digital space is designed as a freely accessible common resource. Openness, innovation and participation aim at supporting society, which in turn will accelerate growth. France wants to promote a digital society characterised by solidarity, equality and emancipation. The distinct character of this digital philosophy underlines the country’s individuality and uniqueness within the European set of values.

In the spirit of its civic values, the French Republic carried out a large public survey on the national design of digitisation in the year 2015. Based on the results, recommendations were drawn up for the decision-makers of digital politics. More than 5,000 players of the French digital economy delivered over 17,000 online statements on the four meta themes and 26 detailed questions regarding the design of the digital space.

The result: A true digital republic primarily wants to achieve network freedom for everyone, which will then form the basis of the entire economic transformation of the Grande Nation. This understanding is also reflected in the practical enforcement of political measures which include such essential pillars as “free access to information and knowledge in the digital universe“, “guarantees for network neutrality“, the “fundamental right of informational self-determination“, a “level playing field with platform operators“ through transparency, non-discrimination and openness as well as the “assertion of the principle of the rule of law“ in the digital area through the control of public monitoring bodies, the extension of legislature to the digital space and the preservation of the freedom of expression.

The basic rules of network society require a strong, highly open and fair steering of the digital space by public authorities. At the same time, e-government initiatives need to be strengthened on all levels to increase public confidence in digital participation opportunities. In other words – economic benefit from digitisation is created through the extensive use of new technologies and an innovative culture in public administration.

Strengthening international competitiveness

The core objective however is to strengthen the international competitiveness of the French economy through the application of the new paradigms of digital society. The driving force for possible growth lies in the industrialisation of digital technologies. For this reason, innovative strength must be improved through an intensive cooperation between economy and science and multiplied by pan-European incentive measures. The main strategic understanding that has prevailed on this issue in France is to create digital ecosystems that are to be established with the help of crowd funding, test markets, territorial clusters of excellence, international investments or cross-border collaboration.

The set of measures for “République Numérique” does not forget about the social aspects. In a digital society, self-determination of individuals and their participation in society must counteract the mechanisms of exclusion and inequality. This vision of solidarity, equality and emancipation is addressing the central questions of social cohesion and the development of digital competencies through education for everyone.

Provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation in part already met

In an important step towards informational self-determination, France passed the “Loi république numérique” (Law of the Digital Republic) in October 2016 with regard to strengthening the rights of users in the digital space. The law anticipates many provisions of GDPR which will come into effect next year, such as the fundamental right of self-determination in the use of personal data, the right to be forgotten, or the protection of minors on the Internet. It also addresses the legal aspects of disclosure and portability of personal data. At the same time, the legal scope for sanctions by the “Commission Nationale Informatique et Libertés” in the case of violations has been widened. With Germany as a like-minded partner by its side, the French regulation of online platforms aims at subjecting these relatively new market participants with their monopoly-like ownership rights of digital interfaces to the same legal standards as traditional providers of telecommunications services in order to ensure market fairness.

Digital politics has allowed France to become one of the global leaders in various areas of digitisation. For example, French e-commerce today counts about 160,000 websites, 112,000 employees and a sales volume of 65 billion euros per year. In the dynamic infrastructure market trends SMACS (Social, Mobility, Analytics, Cloud and Security), France is also one of the leading countries worldwide. The market volume of these next-generation fields of digitisation reached 5.5 billion euros in the year 2014. Moreover, the investment bank bpifrance supported a total of 32 start-ups with the sum of 130 million euros over the first four years of the “Fonds Ambition Numérique”.

Following these thoughts on “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” in the digital age I will report on Austrian initiatives in the next and last blog of this series.