Strengthening digital sovereignty makes Europe less vulnerable politically and economically

Because we in Europe have become very dependent on a few Big-Tech companies from non-European countries for our digital infrastructure and data, we have become vulnerable from an economic and political perspective. The TNO advises governments on how to deal with this.

File digital sovereignty

Our society is increasingly dictated by our digital infrastructure and data, which are largely managed by non-European parties. In fact, more than 90 percent of Western data is already hosted in the United States. As a result, digitalisation has made our society increasingly dependent on a few Big Tech and large online market parties outside the EU. In geopolitical conflicts, digital technology is increasingly being used as a tool of power, and we are dealing with ransomware and cyber attacks. In addition, our democracy and European values ​​and standards are under pressure; think of social media platforms that influence elections and spread fake news. We must also deal with so-called extraterritorial legislation with regard to data and cloud services, which are sometimes in conflict with our European values ​​and standards. Think of the US Cloud Act and Chinese surveillance legislation, where governments can consult our data stored abroad without reservation.

“More than 90 percent of Western data is hosted in the United States.”

Earnings at risk

Digital sovereignty is a complex subject that requires insight and knowledge about both technology and politics, but also about new business models for innovative technical solutions. Claire Stolwijk, researcher and consultant at the Department of Strategic Analysis and Policy at TNO, is a specialist in this field. “A strong digital dependence affects our earning capacity. Think, for example, of developing new AI applications; for this you need, among other things, large harmonized data sets. But it is now prevented because data is often stored in silos from Big Tech companies. “

Digital sovereignty is also high on the agenda in The Hague and Brussels. Jos de Groot is director of the digital economy at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK). First of all: Not every addiction makes us vulnerable. For example, the digital domain is made up of countless interdependencies that give us tremendous benefits. At the same time, unwanted, often one-sided dependencies can make us vulnerable because certain non-European countries and technology companies put pressure on our public interests, such as fair competition, sustainable earning capacity and resilience. When it comes to data and cloud services, we have become too dependent, the European Commission also points out. And that addiction grows every year. ”

“When it comes to data and cloud services, we have become too dependent. And that dependence is growing every year.”

Manage your data

To strengthen our digital sovereignty, there are now several successful European initiatives such as International Data Spaces (IDS) and Gaia-X. IDS is a standard that is already being used in various domains to make data exchange more secure and efficient. The goal of Gaia-X is to achieve scalability of the data sharing infrastructure in Europe by realizing interoperability between the various cloud services. This is achieved by developing common standards and legal frameworks for the digital infrastructure. In addition, Gaia-X promotes interoperability and portability so you can easily switch between cloud services. Hubs have already been set up for Gaia-X in various European countries, including the Netherlands, partly on the initiative of the ECSC.

Claire Stolwijk: “Both IDS and Gaia-X are important projects because they give end users control over their data. This is important to make people and organizations less dependent on big Big Tech platforms. It can also create European infrastructures that are not covered by the US Cloud Act. “

Collaboration is the core

These projects show that collaboration is essential to increase our digital sovereignty. “It is important that the member states work together on this theme, the Netherlands can not do this alone,” emphasizes Claire Stolwijk. “It also gives member states the opportunity to focus on their strengths. For example, development of quantum technology or specific applications. For example, the Netherlands and Europe are still strong in manufacturing complex, high-tech equipment that requires high precision. This market is expected to grow strongly as we increasingly connect everything with everything in this digital age. This will enable the Netherlands and Europe to become market leaders in this area. “

“Only by working more and better together in Europe can we create the necessary scale to succeed in this.”

Jos de Groot also believes in the power of cooperation: “The Netherlands, the European Commission and all other EU Member States will have to work together and on many fronts simultaneously on solutions. And those solutions consist of new legislation and the development of European alternatives through investment with Only by working more and better together in Europe can we create the necessary scale to succeed in this. “

TNO develops knowledge on three levels

It is important to be able to take well-considered, proportionate measures in the field of digital sovereignty. TNO offers knowledge that contributes to this, on three levels, explains Claire Stolwijk: “Initially by advising governments on political solutions. In addition to offering advice on regulation and other instruments, we orchestrate innovation programs. In addition, our technical colleagues work on technological solutions such as 6G, quantum technology and European cloud infrastructures such as Gaia-X. And finally, we are working on developing new business models that contribute to digital sovereignty. These three developments are inextricably linked with the TNO. “

Want to know more or collaborate?

For questions on this topic, please contact Claire Stolwijk.

Do you know more?

Download the paper Digital Sovereignty


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