The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has had numerous consequences for European societies and economies and has led to a review of priorities at the decision-making level by both national and European institutions. Some policy areas have been confirmed as being top priorities on the European political agenda and among these, there is undoubtedly the digital agenda. Several dossiers on this issue are being worked on in Brussels, some more general in scope and others more specific, but all with the aim of strengthening and securing Europe’s digital ecosystem and the Digital Single Market.
The new European data strategy, launched last February together with the other measures included in the package for Europe’s digital future, aims to create a European data space, a single market that is both secure and accessible for businesses, researchers and public administrations. The goal is to create a robust data governance framework regulating all aspects of data use, re-use and protection within the EU, while, at the same time, addressing the needs of technological innovation.
Regarding the above, it is also worth mentioning the ruling of the EU Court of Justice that invalidated the so-called Privacy Shield, i.e. the agreement on the transfer of personal data between the US and the EU. The Commission will therefore need to find a new mechanism to ensure the transatlantic flow of data, to provide a proper surveillance regime and, at the same time, to facilitate the smooth development of digital trade between the two sides of the Atlantic.
By the end of 2020, the Commission therefore intends to establish a regulatory framework for the governance of the European Common Spaces (a total of nine have been identified) containing horizontal measures for data access and use. In addition, the so-called Data Act is also expected by 2021, an additional tool that will regulate the sharing of information held by companies and facilitate its exchange with the public sector (B2G) and between companies themselves (B2B).
Along with the Data Strategy, artificial intelligence is also part of the package containing the European digital priorities presented last February. Here, the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence proposes a regulatory approach to promote its adoption and address the risks associated with its uses, by creating an environment that attracts investment and promotes research and innovation. All this, seeking to keep small and medium-sized enterprises at the heart of this new ecosystem, facilitating their access to the Digital Single Market. The Commission will present a follow-up to the White Paper in the first quarter of 2021 that will take into account the results of the public consultation concluded last June.
DIGITAL SERVICES ACT
According to the Commission’s updated work programme for the last quarter of 2020, the Digital Services Act should arrive by the end of the year. The package, which aims to update the regulatory framework for digital services currently covered by the e-Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC), has as its main objective the reduction of fragmentation at European level, thus ensuring the same level of protection and obligation within the Union. This is done through a set of common rules ranging from transparency and access to information requirements for users and operators of digital services to principles of accountability related to the use of platforms and competition and cooperation rules. The rules will be applied not only to online platforms but to all digital services that do not currently lie within a specific legal framework. Until 8 September, the package is subject to public consultation open to citizens and civil society, digital service providers, businesses, national and local authorities, academia and research.
Last 24 July, the European Commission launched the Security Union Strategy, an ambitious project to identify priority measures and tools to achieve a safer Union using a multi-dimensional approach. Furthermore, in the field of cybersecurity, the review of Directive (EU) 2016/1148, also known as the NIS Directive, on measures for a common high level of network and information systems security in the Union should be completed by the end of 2020.The main purpose is to make “Europe fit for the digital age”.
5G FOR EUROPE
5G launch is one of the most sensitive issues among the Commission’s strategic areas. The “5G for Europe” Action Plan foresees the launch of 5G services in all EU Member States by the end of 2020 to ensure widespread coverage while providing the highest level of protection for users. The Commission, together with Member States and ENISA, will continue to monitor European countries’ compliance with the 5G toolbox launched last January, in order to identify further guidelines at a common level.
On 1 July, the Commission presented the new Skills Agenda for Europe, an ambitious programme with a structured agenda of 12 actions, measured qualitatively and quantitatively on the basis of existing indicators, which will allow progress throughout the Union to be monitored annually. The starting point is the introduction of a European Skills Pact, providing a real framework on which the whole strategy can then be developed in practice. The goal is to ensure that the right to training and long-life learning, enshrined in the European Pillar of Social Rights, becomes a reality throughout Europe. Added to this is the Digital Education Action Plan, also currently under public consultation, which aims to bridge the digital skills gap and make digital literacy a reality for all.