Recent EU’s initiatives and proposals aimed at tackling global digital challenge have resulted in creating a specific sector of European legislation, i.e. the digital law, which consists of two main legal acts regulating digital market and digital services. In order for the European digital decade to be successful, the Commission established the so-called “Digital Compass”, which included the digital skills, governance, infrastructures and entrepreneurship.
The Digital Markets Act, DMA and its sister legislation, the Digital Services Act, DSA are the most lobbied EU laws, with industry spending millions trying to influence the EU institutions.
The DMA and DSA are the bedrock of the European Commission’s plans to rein in “big-tech companies. In a breakthrough agreement, the Parliament’s main political parties reached in November 2021 the DMA package.
European “digital compass”
European Union aims to empower businesses and people in a human-centered, sustainable and more prosperous digital future. In March 2021, the Commission presented a vision and avenues for Europe’s digital transformation by 2030.
In order for the European digital decade to be successful, the Commission established so-called “Digital Compass”, which included the following main points:
• Skills agenda includes preparation of ICT specialists (about 20 million specialist are needed), plus introducing basis digital skills to about 80 percent of the EU’s population. On digital skills see: https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/policies/digital-skills.
The digital skills program includes European skills agenda, digital education action plan, as well as the digital skills and jobs coalition.
• Special attention shall be devoted to secure and sustainable digital infrastructures, which include such issues as connectivity, the “gigabit for everyone” plans, the 5G network everywhere, cutting edge semiconductors and doubling the EU share in global production; data-edge and cloud operations; 10,000 climate neutral highly secure edge nodes; and computing, with the first computer with quantum acceleration. As to the “digital citizenship” program, a framework of digital principles will help promote and uphold EU values in the digital space; the program will be finalised through a wide societal debate and could e.g. include: digital rights and digital principles.
• Business and digital transformation: Tech up-take: 75% of EU companies using Cloud/AI/Big Data, Innovators: grow scale ups & finance to double EU Unicorns; and Late adopters: more than 90% of SMEs reach at least a basic level of digital intensity. The Commission adopted the first Work Programme for the digital part of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF Digital), which defines the scope and objectives of the EU-supported actions needed to improve Europe’s digital connectivity infrastructures for 3 years.
• Digitalisation of public services and governance: key public services shall be turned completely online together with the 100 percent e-health system; besides, all EU citizens will have access to medical records. About 80 percent of EU citizens will be using digital ID. Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/europe-fit-digital-age/europes-digital-decade-digital-targets-2030_en
Digital rights and principles
The digital citizenship is going to be important with a creation of a concept of “digital rights” in the new digital law.
Thus, the digital rights will include: freedom of expression (incl. access to diverse, trustworthy and transparent information), freedom to set up and conduct online businesses, protection of personal data and privacy, as well as protection of the intellectual creation of individuals in the online space.
The “legal digital principles” will include: secure and trusted online environment, universal digital education and skills, access to digital systems and devices that respect nature and environment, accessible and human-centered digital public services and administration, ethical principles for human-centered algorithms, protecting and empowering children in the online space, and access to digital health services.
European “digital decade”
In the proposal for the digital decade, the Commission has set up a governance framework to ensure the EU states would reach the decade’s objectives by 2030. This EU’s governance framework will be based on an annual cooperation mechanism involving the Commission and the member states: i.e. the Commission would first develop projected EU trajectories for each target together with the states; the states would in their turn formulate national strategic roadmaps to attain these objectives in a structured, transparent and shared monitoring system based on the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) to measure progress towards each of the 2030 targets.
The Commission has identified an initial list of multi-country projects: the list includes areas for investment in such spheres as data infrastructure, low-power processors, 5G communication, high performance computing, secure quantum communication, public administration, blockchain, digital innovation hubs and digital skills.
The Commission recommended that about 20 percent of the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility shall be dedicated to digital transition in each EU member states.
On “digital decade” and strategy in: https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/news/commission-invest-nearly-eu2-billion-delivering-digital-advances-business-citizens-and-public
Digital learning and employment
The general right to education, training and lifelong learning is enshrined in the first principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights: “all people should have continuous access to quality education and training and a selection of opportunities for skills development reflecting their needs at all times. Skills are the building blocks of individuals’ success in an ever-changing labour market and society”.
At the EU’s social summits and the European Council decisions, the European leaders welcomed the 2030 EU headline targets set by the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, which includes the target of 60% of all adults taking part in training every year by 2030. However, as of 2016, only 37% are engaged in yearly training every year with small growth rates registered before. Commission’s proposals invite the states to partnerships with social partners and the interested parties concerned to make up-skilling and re-skilling a reality for all.
The proposals for a Council Recommendation on individual learning accounts and for a Council Recommendation on Micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability are the last of the twelve flagship actions announced in the European skills agenda and the European Pillar of Social Rights action plan. The European approach to micro-credentials is also a key flagship to achieve a European Education Area by 2025.
EU institutional response to digital actions
For example, the Parliament’s economics and industry committees suggested more rigorous restrictions on default settings, i.e. giving users the option to remove pre-installed software. MEPs have called for the DMA to include more robust provisions for interoperability and data protection standards in particular; although they don’t foresee any points of conflict in discussions next year with the French Council’s presidency.
The amendments include tougher obligations on large platforms such as Google to tackle the spread of problematic content and disinformation. Lawmakers added more obligations for online marketplaces such as Amazon to do random checks on products sold by third-party sellers, as well as safeguards for pornography websites. Parliament’s text would likely catch fewer tech platforms in the new rules than the Council’s.
However, the Parliament’s committees have introduced a range of amendments, and the agreement must still be approved again by EU countries through the so-called trilogies’ process before becoming law. France, which has long seen itself as a leader in Europe when it comes to clampdowns on Big Tech, during its Council Presidency in the first half of 2022, will insist on the need for “digital sovereignty”, though some EU states (e.g. Ireland) are skeptical. They argue European ambitions to become a global tech leader come too late, and it would be better to work with American or other international tech companies to foster domestic spin-offs and investment climates at home; this position is shared by several tech-industry companies.
European Parliament prepares to vote on proposals during January 2022 seeking to rein in digital giants such as Meta/Facebook and Google.
The EU has long been ahead of the “digital structures” and legal rules compared to other global regions, e.g. the US and China when it comes to regulating the “Big Tech” (the digital technology companies). Thus the year of 2021 has become another important milestone in the history of EU digital regulation, as the member states moved closer to adopting the laws regulating the digital market and services (DSA/DMA legislation), despite divides between EU countries on the need to balance user privacy and societal interest with business interests. Though highly technical, the proposed legislation would ultimately shape the relationship between European citizens, corporate entities and technology systems in the years to come.