Parliamentary leadership for the Digital Age

MEPs will have to become more digitally literate than ever before if the EU is to maintain its digital leadership, writes Pilar del Castillo
Photo credit: European Internet Forum (EIF)

By Pilar del Castillo

Pilar del Castillo (ES, EPP) is chair of the European Internet Forum

17 Sep 2019

In this new Parliament, MEPs will need to work on a growing number of digitally-driven issues in their committee assignments and group deliberations.

Therefore, all of us will have to become far more digitally literate and aware than has been the case in previous Parliaments.


To help focus and structure this legislative aspect, the European Internet Forum (EIF) has produced a short summary - The Top 10 Digital Future Trends that will shape Europe’s Future and demand Political Leadership - which can be found inserted in this magazine.

It also goes without saying, but nevertheless bears repeating, that the rapidly-emerging digital world presents Europe with a new and heightened challenge to our immutable existential choice: a continent-wide single economic and social space, or fragmentation leading to the marginalisation of Europe in the digital age.

Before looking ahead, it’s worth reflecting on how far the EU has progressed on this agenda over the past five years, and the decisive role the Parliament has played as co-legislator in shaping these outcomes.

“The rapidly-emerging digital world presents Europe with a new and heightened challenge to our immutable existential choice”

These include the European Electronic Communications Code and Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC) regulation, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Copyright Directive and Roam Like at Home.

Nevertheless, beyond these accomplishments, it would be fair to say that we have only just begun to address some of the most rapidly evolving trends.

This being the state of play, as our newly-elected MEPs take o­ffice, what signals do we see from the Commission and the Council that would allow Parliament to play a more intensive and decisive leadership role in shaping EU policy and regulation?

On the Commission side, we now look forward to working with President-elect Ursula von der Leyen to make Europe “fit for the digital age,” one of the six Political Guidelines, together with specific action points, set out in her Agenda for Europe.

We also take careful note of her wish for the European Parliament “to have a right of initiative for legislation and a louder voice when it comes to the economic governance of our Union”.

Indeed, governance will increasingly need to respond to the real-world impacts of the Digital Trends set out in our EIF summary.

Meanwhile, the European Council has adopted a “new strategic agenda 2019 – 2024” in which our Member States have agreed to work on “all aspects of the digital revolution and artificial intelligence: infrastructure, connectivity, services, data, regulation and investment,” as well as to “protect our societies from malicious cyber-activities, hybrid threats and disinformation.”

“Indeed, governance will increasingly need to respond to the real-world impacts of the Digital Trends set out in our EIF summary”

Arguably missing in both of these agendas is a recognition of the strategic choices the EU faces, or will face, in view of the race for global digital leadership, notably between the West and China.

Parliament must not lose sight of this geo-strategic dimension.

In short, it appears at this point that digitally-driven issues will rapidly command centre stage as our renewed EU institutions get down to work. This is both essential and promising.

But from the outset, we must recognise that none of these issues is purely technical, although it is vital to understand their technical character.

Rather, as we have learned over the past decade, they are all political with a capital ‘P’ and will become ever more so as the community of digital policy stakeholders rapidly expands across our economies and societies.

This is why, as the directly-elected EU institution, our Parliament must play, and be capable of playing, a leadership role in the political and legislative processes through which the European Union can meet the democratic challenge put forward in EIF’s Top 10 Digital Trends.

All of us at EIF will continue playing our recognised role in supporting the European Parliament’s essential work as we enter the digital age.

Read the most recent articles written by Pilar del Castillo - Building cloud supply on EU terms


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