"We will shape digital transformation on our own terms"
Ms Bär, Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union has set itself a whole series of objectives in order to move forward with digitalisation. What are the objectives and why are they important?
Dorothee Bär: The COVID-19 pandemic has once again illustrated how much we still need to do in the digital sector – in Germany and in Europe. During our Presidency of the Council, we believe it is particularly important to establish digital sovereignty as a guiding vision in Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel advocated this with success when the European Council met at the start of October.
For me, digital sovereignty means that we in Europe intend to take our own path and address the digital transformation of government, the economy and civil society on our own terms. It is not about protectionism and it is not about doing everything ourselves in Europe. It is about deciding for ourselves where we want to be independent and where we need to invest in order to achieve that independence.
The European Council meeting at the beginning of October tasked the European Commission to produce a digital compass for 2030, as an important building block in attaining digital sovereignty. We urgently need clear, long-term monitoring for Europe’s strategic digital capacities and capabilities.
We are also delighted that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen outlined prospects for a digital identity in her state of the Union address, although this will not come to fruition during our Presidency of the Council. We are in close dialogue with the Commission on this. We need practicable, Europe-wide solutions for everyone. That would also lay an important foundation stone for digital sovereignty.
One important project that is to be moved forward during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union is GAIA-X, a system to network European cloud services. Once GAIA-X is implemented, what advantages will it bring the people of Europe and European companies?
Bär: GAIA-X aims to put in place a secure, sovereign, open data infrastructure, that is to facilitate dynamic innovation. I believe it is important that we do so on the basis of European values. GAIA-X will offer both infrastructure and applications, and will be European. That much is clear. It is, however, to be open for users and providers worldwide, provided they comply with our governance regulations. For companies and individuals it will mean secure data sharing, secure communication, no lock-in effects and no dependence on the US and Chinese providers that have hitherto dominated the market.
Alongside digitalisation, climate action is a priority of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. Are these two goals compatible or does more digitalisation constitute an obstacle to climate action?
Bär: We aim to reduce the energy and resources consumed by digital technology and infrastructure to a minimum. At the same time, we intend to harness the opportunities offered by digitalisation for environmental protection and climate action.
Within the framework of our Presidency of the Council of the EU, we are discussing with other member states how we can move resolutely forward with measures to address the two major challenges – digitalisation and climate action. The environment ministers will be adopting conclusions on this at their meeting in December.
When it comes to digitalisation and environmental protection, I think it is important to take into account the impacts of these cross-cutting issues on other important policy fields too. And that is exactly what we’re doing during our Presidency of the Council of the European Union.