Keynote 01 2020

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11 June 2020 | 16:30-17:00 | Studio The Hague | Video recording | Transcript | Forum
Consolidated programme 2020 overview / Day 1


  • planned with Roberto Viola, Director General, DG CONNECT, European Commission, held by Pearse O’Donohue, Director for Future Networks in DG CONNECT (including Q&A)
    (30 min)

Video record


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>> SANDRA HOFEICHTER: Hello, everyone. We’re back to our last segment of the day. Unfortunately, our keynote speaker could not connect to the studio. We are waiting for him, and we thought it’s not going to be a good idea if we start earlier with the Plenary because some of the speakers for the Plenary are not yet connected to the room. Therefore, I would kindly ask you for a little bit more patience. Go and get a coffee. We will play some music for you over our stream, and so you can dance a little bit to get some exercise throughout the day, and we will start here at 5:00 sharp with the Plenary on Digital Sovereignty. Thank you.

(pause until 5:00).

>> PEARSE O’DONOHUE: Nadia, can you hear me? I know Sandra has sent everyone away now. How do you want to handle this?

>> SANDRA HOFEICHTER: Hello, everybody. We just heard our little delay was resolved, literally, in the last minute. I think you are all expecting Roberto Viola but because of some very urgent commitment, he said he can, unfortunately, not do this keynote speech which was supposed to be a live keynote speech with question and answer; and therefore, Pearse Director of Digital Connect has said he can make a speech. So, I’m very happy that you could make it to our studio here in Hague. It’s quite a ways away from Brussel. Can you hear me?

>> PEARSE O’DONOHUE: Yes. I can hear you.

>> SANDRA HOFEICHTER: Okay. Before you make the tool, I just would like to let you know that we will collect questions by our Menti tool and everyone can go there by using the code 589204. You can post questions and the last 15 or 10 minutes of your time slot, we will be using to submit you that question that you can hopefully answer.

Don’t be worried if you haven’t had a chance to take note of the code now. We will display the code while Pearce O’Donohue is speaking and you can only make one question and we can only have one or two questions, so think wisely what you submit. Pearse, without further ado, I hand it over to you for your keynote.

>> PEARSE O’DONOHUE: Thank you, Sandra. I’m sorry for being the cause of that today because it’s very important that you have everything for your event. My apologies for Roberto Viola who was expected to be attending isn’t here. I’m Pearse O’Donohue, Director for Future Networks in DG CONNECT, and together with our team, we’ve been following EuroDIG and their activities for quite some time.

So the first thing, obviously, to remark on is the fact that we are all here participating virtually at the first fully online EuroDIG and that’s itself quite an achievement. And it’s remarkable what the European Governance Committee has done and what you achieved over the last year. And now given this year, given the current circumstances, the organizers had to decide to go online. It was the right choice, and you managed to reconvene the event quite successfully, and that’s thanks to the work of all the stakeholders to Sandra at the team of the EuroDIG Secretariat, but also, of course, to the hosts, the International Center for Theoretical Physics and of course for the Italian partners. And I’d like to thank you all and congratulate you.

It’s a great opportunity for me on behalf of the Commission to speak to you at a time of great change, but also great crisis in Europe because COVID‑19 has confronted us all with challenges and tested us as a society, cohesion of the society and operation of the economy and I don’t have to tell you everything that’s been happening.

The global reach of the crisis is unprecedented. Although, perhaps, its nature or effects that it has had are not entirely new. We have faced similar challenges in it the past and we have managed to transform those challenges into opportunities. I think it’s quite striking that EuroDIG was planned to take place in Trieste, and it was precisely there in Italy after the Black Plague in the 14th Century then we had a bright period of technological advance in that time and that was the renaissance and the renaissance started in Italy. And I think it’s a lot of symbolic and meaningful coincidence we’re back in Italy, virtually, for EuroDIG because Italy was also one of the first European countries to endure the dramatic consequences of COVID, and that health crisis turned rapidly into an economic one as well for all of Europe.

We can follow Italy in an example and many other European countries were able to do so and take appropriate measures ahead of time, and to a certain extent, limit the terrible effects of the virus.

But now we have to focus on the future and that’s what the commission is doing and that’s what we hope to do with you, the Internet Community here in Europe because of the important role that you’re going to play. Because in a way, we have the opportunity for a new rebirth. This time we’re going to have a green and a digital renaissance and the Internet is at the heart of that.

Just like in the medieval periods, thanks to the extensive network of trade routes, Europe’s economy and society was able to open up between European cities themselves but also of other regions, and now a digital renaissance will rely even more than ever on those connections, the connections created now by the Internet because the Internet is already playing a crucial role in the way events are unfolding, and in our response to the COVID crisis. It helps us all to stay connected, of course, and we’re all learning personally, I’m sure like I am and you are about how much we rely on the tools to work and stay in contact with your families, but also to educate our children, get access to services, and so on.

At the same time, collectively, we have people working on research, tackling the virus, looking at potential vaccinations, but also modeling and predicting the spread of the disease and so on. And all of that data work done through the Internet is of vital importance to all of us. And individually, as we’re all going online, that’s put Internet traffic and security under strain, but we see there is significant resilience, that the system has been able to cope with high increase in traffic, and even the security threat with a few bad actors trying to exploit the situation to their own benefit.

Both the centralized nature of the network of Internet communications has actually shown that it is the right model, and that’s something that which we want to ensure can continue in the future.

(background speaking).

Certainly, we have to be prepared for any scenarios and we have to have investment and improvement, but we must not allow the crisis to encourage others to try to interfere or to break the system at its heart which is a decentralized model where there is multistakeholder governance which allows for the varied system that we have today, and also which avoids putting the power of Internet in one person’s hands.

That distributed and decentralized nature of the Internet is something we have resolved to defend and we rely on you to continue that work in a collaborative and multistakeholder way, and but also of course, we’re going to have to face up to the radical changes that COVID is bringing to society, but there will be good coming out of that in terms of technology, more teleworking, e‑learning, e‑commerce, and e‑government, and that’s something for example that puts for example we want to develop for you a universal EID, Public Electronic Identity, which allows for secure but trusted access to digital services.

Now, Europe has always been at the forefront of breakthroughs and advances in science of art and technology, and again it will be in the future, and so that’s why the Commission has proposed a new recovery instrument to harness the entrepreneurship and the creativity of Europeans into an increased and highly ambitious new European budget. At its heart, it’s a recovery plan of nearly 2 billion, 1.85 trillion Euros to help kickstart the economy, and it focuses specifically on green and on digital transformations with a particular attention to resilience and sustainability.

And so that focus on digital is something which brings the work that you do, clearly, into the spotlight. Digitization across all areas in society and advancement in communications which will be driven by AI and Edge computing, but which will require an independent voice to make sure that it works for the good of all, and that some of the potentially negative impacts of the ubiquitous Internet system are being carefully looked after.

There are four elements that I’d like to mention, briefly, in the Commission’s approach, and which all show a role for the multistakeholder governance model for a role for all of our partners in Europe in order to make sure that it’s balanced and fair, but also that we have the right expertise and the right checks and balances.

First of all, we have to invest in more connectivity. That’s clear. We need a stronger European supply chain. Thirdly, we need a real and secure data economy. And lastly, we need a fair and safer access for European users and for small businesses.

So, just firstly, think about that connectivity for a moment. We’re going to see quickly the rapid deployment of 5G and that will have spillover effects across all parts of society and it will be an opportunity to increase our digital and strategic autonomy. As we’ve seen in this crisis, the economy depends on our Internet connectivity, and we have to make sure that Europe can continue to be in the lead and to be well provisioned in these matters. That requires, that second point there for a stronger digital supply chain and technological presence in all parts of the digital advancements, because as connectivity is important. We have seen questions recently about the supply of modern communications equipment and also the risks in terms of cybersecurity if it is not managed by Europe for Europe with European values in mind.

And then after those two connectivity around, of course, supply, we have the issue of digital and with green of putting greater reference to reduce the environmental footprint of the ICT sector, which is a responsibility of all of us.

Now, I’ve mentioned the data economy is our point and I think you’ve seen a lot of what we’ve been doing on data policy recently, but we want to create common secure European data spaces in key sectors and areas, and we want to support the infrastructure that actually helps these data spaces to work, that provides the Edge computing that all sectors of the economy will need. And as I’ve said with a particular reference in Europe to sustainability and the environmental friendliness of those approaches.

But in order to provide advanced and ubiquitous health, mobility, and public administration services, as well as the more commercial services being provided by the private sector.

For this, we will be putting in place a series of actions on data sharing and on governance, and those you will see coming in the months ahead and that will be followed later by a data act that will establish the conditions for better access, control of industrial data, and of course, we want to make sure that high‑value datasets in the government hands are also available for the common good so that will allow more open access for research and innovation, particularly by SMEs.

I mentioned as the last element is fair and equitable access, and that’s really important as we look at the power of some players on the Internet, particularly, in regards to Internet platforms, and we know that SMEs are the drivers of the European economy and they will need to be able to avail fully of people accessing the Internet and their use of the Internet as more companies and users switch to digital for business, but the online environment is currently dominated by a small number of global actors and that position has an impact on the abilities of smaller players, smaller European companies and SMEs to participate and be fully effective.

So that is going to be one of the points that we’ll be addressing in the new digital services act which will be to improve the legal framework for digital services and create greater security for consumers, prevent the abuse of market power where it happens, and generally, make it easier for the digital economy to work.

Now, we have just last week opened a public consultation on plans for the digital services act, and I would ask all of you in this meeting to consider responding to help us and the Commission to get it right, to make sure we’re aware of all the issues that you’re confronted with, and also the perspectives of all elements of our stakeholder community as we come to formulate that particular regulatory action.

The last point is really one of security. We have seen over the last weeks, as well as all of the good we’ve seen, some of the less good elements of reliance on the Internet with certain individuals trying to exploit weaker members of society or weaknesses in the system to defraud, to cheat, or to have an economic advantage. That’s something which in Europe we have already made it clear we are not prepared to accept, we’re putting in place measures in order to counter the attacks and the threats, and we are now involved in the new cybersecurity strategy to boost U11 cooperation and the capacity in cybersecurity. We have to strengthen capability as in all elements of industry, as well as for individual users, and of course, that means in particular, SMEs that are in some cases the most vulnerable and that will be for the good of all, and it can be done in a way in Europe that all players meet the same standards so there will be no race to the bottom, no undercutting in terms of security for business and for users.

So all of this also has to be done in respect of fundamental rights, and I’d like to give you the example of work that a team has been doing with Digital Connect in relation to COVID and that was in helping with the stakeholder community, with our experts in the next generation in the Internet community to develop an independent monitoring and verification technical facility for the tracing apps, which are if done properly, a very useful tool for national health authorities to be able to track the potential spread of the disease and to deal quickly with any new contamination outbreaks.

Now, that is something that is vitally important. It has raised questions as to personal data protection, and we have ensured that the model that is now favored in Europe is one that fully meets our standards for personal data protection and for protecting the individual. That’s sine qua non for such technology to be adopted and that is the way we’re going to do things in Europe and anyone who knows Europe knows that and has to respect that. The European approach has an example in the current challenge that we wants to see as being the accepted norm across all aspects of the digital economy, and we also have to look the a digital sovereignty, that in seeking to have those European values, apply through all elements of the ecosystem, we have to be able to assure we have a supply of services or technologies that actually meet those standards and that is why European Digital Sovereignty is going to be a very important issue for this Commission as we work forward and move out of the crisis.

Of course, we’re not going to do it in isolation. We’re fully open to digital cooperation, international cooperation, both in standardization, but particularly also in Internet governance and many others are faced with the same challenges that we are and we’re going to work together with them and cooperation must be efficient and able to address all the issues that are confronting the Internet and the digital economy as we go forward.

So that’s why we’re all like you, looking forward to tomorrow to the publication of the Roadmap that follows up to the UN Secretary‑General on digital cooperation and we have an idea of what might be coming but of course we’ll be discussing that and EuroDIG will be the first place where that can be discussed tomorrow as its release, but we all share the claim of enhancing digital cooperation and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

But if I could conclude, that brings us back to what you were doing today. We are, as you are, a strong supporter of a bottom‑up multistakeholder approach to Internet governance, we don’t accept it blindly, nor do we refuse to accept criticism for the way in which it operates. We must constantly be looking at the model to ensure that it is fit for purpose and that it does address some of the challenges that I’ve talked about.

But in the complexity that we’re dealing with, in some cases, it’s simple centrally controlled top‑down are not the answer and that’s something we put forward with our partners as our approach to Internet governance even as we look at ways to improve the model with you, the stakeholders, to make sure it’s still fit for purpose. You have to look at the wide new implications of new technology, and we have to accept also that given that, digital is everywhere, given that every element of society now depends on the Internet, more and more players, some with different secretarial interests, some with different regulatory powers will all want to get involved more deeply in the governance of the Internet and we have to be ready for that and adapt to that and make sure that our model is credible and capable of dealing with all of these new challenges that I’ve talked about.

So, I’m going to stop there. I was late already and I apologize for having made you wait, but I really do look forward to the discussion with you now and for the next couple of days in EuroDIG. So, thank you to all for your participation, and thank you for your attention now.

>> AUKE PALS: Dear, Pearse, thanks a lot for your keynote and we’ve received some questions from the EuroDIG participants. We’ve made a selection, while there are a lot of them, and I hope you would like to answer them.


>> AUKE PALS: The first question is in which areas do you think you have a competitive advance in tech?

>> PEARSE O’DONOHUE: Well, we continue to have a competitive advantage in the brain power that Europe brings to services, but particularly, even to the development of new technologies and new equipment. In software, including in artificial intelligence, but we also have a competitive advantage in taking what are more standard digital technologies that are used around the world and applying a different type of governance, so I mentioned before about European values, and we think, for example, that while some Internet technologies and services have been open to abuse and shown weaknesses in regard to the protection of an individual and individual personal data, for example, the way that we are doing things with the GDPR, as one example, with the NIS Directive and other regulations, and but also in working with partners is somewhere that gives us an advantage. We will be able to say to users across the world, your data is safe in Europe, your personal identity is safe in Europe, and as that becomes central to people’s lives and also to the economy. We think that that is actually a selling point.

But there are many areas that I could go through and my Commissioner is responsible for industry policy as well as for digital, and he’s very keen to let everyone understand just how strong the underlying European economy is, and sometimes we talk ourselves down, and I’ve been dealing with 5G matters significantly, for example, where some people seem to think Europe lost the race and that’s not the case at all. We’re just not prepared to pretend like other people are that 5G is already over. It’s not. In many cases, 5G is not even properly rolled out all over the world, and a lot of technologies that are being used in the 5G implementation are European, European standards, European patents, and European equipment and the services on top of that also, and that’s just one example of what I deal with where I can see competitive advantage across many areas, but also I’d like to hear from people in the audience as to what are the things that you think we in the Commission should also be looking at in the future.

>> AUKE PALS: Thanks a lot for your answer. I’ve also received another question from the audience, and the question is what role do you see for Europe in the field of Internet governance in the coming years and of WSIS + 10 in 2025?

>> PEARSE O’DONOHUE: Well, in Internet governance we do clearly see that there is a vacuum and Europe wants to not just fill that vacuum but to become the center of a new discussion. Of course, not on our own, and as I said tomorrow, we’ll see what contribution the roadmap from the UN Secretary‑General will make in the global discussions, but we have, unfortunately, seen a getaway of am so of the discussions about the technology, about the underlying values, and about the way it has worked. We’ve also seen, and this links to the second part of the question, it links into the attempts by some to have a more state‑controlled system for the Internet, and that is something which we do not accept. European Member States, and the governments in Europe do not accept that either, and we want to with like‑minded partners ensure that model is not threatened; but in order to do so, we have to be active. First of all in the discussions that will happen, whether it’s about IGF+ or about alternative model, but also when it comes to technology development so the developments in technology or suggestions that we need to depart completely from the existing Internet protocol system, are not an excuse for actually breaking up the ubiquitous, transparent, and democratic Internet that we currently have, and so everything else is also the second part of the question. One of the roles that we might play in WSIS is simply by saying, are we sure that this is the right place to be having this discussion, and if we do get a positive outcome with regard to an IGF+ model, for example, it might be there isn’t an awful lot more that can be done in WSIS itself, but we will work that one out as they come to us.

I think, firstly, together with you the Internet community, we need to be sure that we agree with one another, that we take all the views into account so that Europe presents the united front.

>> AUKE PALS: Yeah, so thanks a lot also for that. I guess do have some time for just one more question, and that question is, is it possible to really conceive European alternative through the dominance of certain big players or do we need to accept this dominance and what characteristic can we put forward as Europe?

>> PEARSE O’DONOHUE: Well, we don’t have to accept dominance and in strict competition terms, we’re not going to accept dominance. But I think it’s what dominance might imply. It’s when there is an inability or access or fair access for small startups and SMEs who have what could be the next big thing, which could drive forward the economy for the good of society, for employment, et cetera, just because the larger the platforms are, the larger the dominant players are, the less innovative they will be, and that’s not good given all the power of digital technology that we know.

But it’s also the case that if it becomes vertical across the platforms, the services, and the control of the data, then we’re in a situation which there are strategic threats there in the long run, which there is a growing discussion in Europe which we hope that every member of this community will be part of, which allows us to see that we actually need diversity, and can provide that diversity. So it is realistic and what is not acceptable is just to sit back and say it’s happened and it’s over because just as we look at the move from Cloud computing, centralized Cloud computing to Edge computing, Europe can play a much stronger role with the technology that is there. Just as we look at a much greater emphasis on personal identity and identity spaces, Europe is in the lead on data technologies of that nature, and so we can actually regain an advantage, if you want to think of it just in terms of competitive questions, but at the same time, we are likely to be in the position to be more assertive about the values that underpin the way that we do business that we run our societies, and many others, I think, would like to join with us in that kind of approach.

>> AUKE PALS: Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot, also, for stepping in and making time for this keynote. For me, personally, it was really interesting keynote and Q&A hearing also your vision and your thoughts on how to move forward. I would also like to thank the audience for asking questions, and yeah, for now I would like to give back the floor for Nadia, our Studio Host.

>> PEARSE O’DONOHUE: Thank you.