How does “digital strategic autonomy” actually work?


Today, strategic autonomy is no longer just a matter of security. Many areas are now considered “strategic”: economy and industry, manufacturing and critical infrastructure, sustainability, energy security and the electric revolution, not forgetting of course security and defence.

But the real game of the future is no doubt now being played out in the field of new technologies and, even more so, in the digitization of societies.

While it is now clear that autonomy cannot mean protectionism, in times of crisis it can mean “pragmatism”. In this context, a solid and adaptable industrial base is essential to ensure the ability to act independently.

On the one hand, finding like-minded partners is now more necessary than ever. On the other hand, member states and the EU need to engage with strategic and even systemic rivals. While the world itself operates on interdependencies, openness will secure the goals and needs of a digital, sustainable and future-proof European transition.

Yet rebalancing the nature of these relationships towards an assertive position may be necessary in the long-term strategy – ensuring that no compromise in terms of core values ​​is ever accepted.

Critical technologies must be considered as instruments of digital strategic autonomy.

Microchips, as well as new telecommunications technologies such as 5G and 6G, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and cybersecurity tools, as well as electronic and digital identification, are just some of the main catalysts in the different segments of this digital transition.

Shortages in the supply chain and know-how in these areas (as has been the case during the pandemic) have underscored how diversification and even the reshaping of strategic prerogatives must be at the center of the political agendas of the industry. EU.

Therefore, finding the right partners to cooperate with is an important part of a successful strategic Europe. Partners are defined as like-minded, market-oriented democracies where openness is essential.

Transatlantic cooperation with the two Americas, meaningful trade and investment relations with democracies in Africa, and close cooperation with countries like Taiwan and Japan should be encouraged.

meat on the bone

The trade and technology councils and digital diplomacy sound good, but they lack the meat on the bone. Furthermore, as interests may vary over time and circumstances, it is essential that the EU explores new market-based relationships under common standards, creating systemic dialogue and reciprocal mechanisms for sharing information.

To this end, a solid foundation of data governance and privacy rules is crucial. In fact, data can be defined as the “oil” of a digital economy. With its recent efforts to define the Digital Services Act and the Digital Market Act, the Data Governance Act and the Data Act, the European institutions have taken important steps regarding the way European companies store , use and process data and manage privacy.

The European data economy itself, however, is still far from reaching its full potential, jeopardizing its strategic digital autonomy.

As the European Parliament elections in 2024 approach, the discussion on how data is processed for political advertising purposes is becoming increasingly important — to ensure transparency, protect citizens’ rights, while fighting against misinformation and interference.

Protecting citizens’ rights online is at the heart of the future digital Europe. With the rise of Chinese imperialism and following the Russian aggression against Ukraine, malicious activities in the digital domain have intensified.

The EU must be resilient in cyberspace. Cybersecurity vulnerabilities threaten the functioning of our economies, the internal market across the EU and pose a cross-cutting danger to our societies. Being resilient in cyberspace requires strategic, proactive, integrated and sustainable policy advancements.

Resilience can neither be built by force nor be regulated without a comprehensive strategy that listens to the industry. This strategy must be sustainable and long-term, let the free market work, let the digital industry produce and avoid excessive regulation. It may not be a magic bullet, but it is a liberal best practice for ensuring truly “smart” policies.

And the EU must facilitate such a strategy “yesterday”, if it wants to secure its “Fit4DigitalFuture” plan – and realize digital strategic autonomy.

Like a computer, it’s time for the EU to seek updates – perhaps even reboot its operating system – reassessing its strategic priorities, strengthening its relationships with like-minded partners and reconsidering those with strategic rivals. In the age of smart devices, making smart policies is the only way to strengthen our digital future.

This article first appeared in EUobserver’s magazine, Digital EU: the Good, the Bad — and the Ugly, which you can now read in full online.

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