Speaking at Digital Europe’s Masters of Digital event in Brussels yesterday, European Commission Secretary-General, Martin Selmayr gave an upbeat assessment of the Juncker Commission’s record on Digital. Selmayr said the mission set out by Juncker had been to break down the silos in the EU’s digital economy which had largely been achieved through the almost complete Digital Single Market package. “That was phase one” he said, the mission of the next Commission in what he called “phase two, must be to drive digital in everything”. He said that looking across the whole funding package more than €50bn had been earmarked over the next financial period to drive digitization in every aspect of the EU’s work - from agriculture to healthcare. Selmayr put digital at the heart of the European project, saying that in the years ahead “the EU needs digital and digital needs a strong EU”.
As efforts go in marking your own homework it was a bullish performance, however the man often described as the father, or perhaps more accurately the god father of the GDPR was able to point to the way that countries around the world were starting to replicate the EU’s approach to data protection. He highlighted this as a success in putting European values at the heart of the global digital economy. GDPR was fundamental Selmayr said, with other measures, in enabling the free flow of data around the European Union. He also highlighted the progress made on cyber security and argued that looking forward Europe needed to be less naive about the need to have autonomy in the field of digital, suggesting that there were some aspects of digital technology where the EU needed to have sovereign capabilities. He warned that European citizens are worried about the risk of outside forces interfering in Europe’s democratic processes and called on social media companies to do more to ensure transparency to protect the integrity of the European Parliament elections.
Selmayr's remarks, which came at the end of the day, echoed the up-beat tone of the event which brought together a stellar line up of European policy makers and business leaders to take stock of Europe’s digitization and look into the future. Overall the mood was refreshingly optimistic about the potential of digital to address the biggest economic, social and economic challenges through digital innovation. Sessions focused on digital ecosystems, digital manufacturing, sustainability, e-health and AI. None of the speakers were ducking the big questions in each of these sessions but overall there was a sense that real progress could be made towards a technological future that was fundamentally human centric.
The Conference was particularly well attended by senior officials from across the European Commission with Commissioner Mariya Gabriel opening the day. The UK government was represented by Lord Ashton UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who argued that the UK and EU would continue to share many close values and set out the potential for UK-EU cooperation post Brexit.
Martin Selmayr referred to Brexit only briefly, saying that it was a very sad thing which he and he suspected everyone on in the room regretted. The EU was losing its largest and strongest digital economy but he hoped there would be strong and close cooperation after Brexit. He said there was an agreement between the UK government and the EU that would facilitate this. All that was needed was for the UK Parliament to ratify. And with that, back to Westminster...