Keynote Speech by Commissioner Gabriel on Transatlantic Digital Agenda



Brussels, 26.09.2017

Dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be with you tonight to discuss the partnership between the EU & the US on digital issues.

This is certainly the right place and the very right moment to have this discussion: in many ways, the world is changing so fast and so profoundly that we need to take stock regularly with our closest partners on where we are on key issues, and digital is certainly one of them.

As a starting point for my comments, I would like to mention an extract of the latest public report of the US National Intelligence Council published in January 2017.

Early in December following his election, each and every US President-elect finds on his desk such a report drafted by the NIC. This report describes the global and technological trends that will be at play during its presidency, as well as the challenges and opportunities they will imply for his mandate.

The latest edition was named: paradox of progress. This already says a lot. But let me quote a small part of its introduction:

"We are living a paradox: The achievements of the industrial and information ages are shaping a world to come that is both more dangerous and richer with opportunity than ever before. Whether promise or peril prevails will turn on the choices of humankind.

The progress of the past decades is historic—connecting people, empowering individuals, groups, and states, and lifting a billion people out of poverty in the process. But this same progress also spawned shocks like the Arab Spring, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and the global rise of populist, anti-establishment politics. These shocks reveal how fragile the achievements have been, underscoring deep shifts in the global landscape that portend a dark and difficult near future."

I am sure many of you will remember this report, and I also invite you to look at the similar project undertaken by the EU 's Strategy and Policy Analysis System, but this extract already captures well the current historical transition which we are living through.

In particular, I would like to focus on three words : connection, shifts, and opportunities. For me, these capture the issues which will be truly important for our global future, and are therefore clearly relevant for our discussion on our digital transatlantic agenda.

Strengthening Connection

The digital transatlantic relation is firstly about the connections that bind us together.

All of you know, the density of the transatlantic relation has no equivalent. This is the first relationship on the global stage to reach € 2 billion in bilateral trade flows every day and a unique integration of our economic ecosystems.

This also reflects the attractiveness of Europe for our American partners – let's remember that 70% of total US FDI outflows went to Europe in 2016 – this is likely to increase further with the continuous expansion of EU’s trade relations after the entry into force of the Free Trade Agreement with Canada, and eventually of similar agreements with Japan, Mercosur, India, Australia and New Zealand.

A significant part of this relationship is about digital.

If I can quote another interesting US report - one released earlier this year by the US Chamber of Commerce office here in Brussels – Amcham - In 2015 the U.S. exported $184 billion in digitally deliverable services to Europe and imported $113 billion from Europe. U.S. exports of digitally deliverable services to Europe were more than double U.S. trade with Latin America and almost double U.S. trade with the entire Asia-Pacific region.

Our digital relationship matters!

If we look beyond trade to our publicly-funded research programmes, we see for example that both the EU and the US have made huge commitments to using IT to help us understand how our brains work, and how we can fight against increasing challenges such as Alzheimer's.

So, our common baseline is already very high. But we can still do more.

The digital single market that President Juncker launched in May 2015 will reinforce further this transatlantic bond: as we integrate further the European economy in a single online market, new public and private investments in connectivity will translate into new business activities and new infrastructures. Modernised rules for the data economy will reinforce and make more predictable our legal environment . All this will mean more opportunities for US companies to invest and sell products & services in the EU.

Of course, the development of new European digital services and products, building on the EU’s experience and assets in digital industrial platforms, as well as the increasing focus on autonomous & connected cars, on e-health, and on supercomputing will benefit also consumers and the businesses in the US.

As you know, the implementation of the DSM is my number one priority, and I am fully committed to ensure that all 35 initiatives bring about the changes we need to create an innovation-friendly, open and competitive digital single market.

Deep shifts and values

As the NIC report reminds us, our digital agenda is taking place in an environment challenged by profound and numerous shifts.

In particular, the technological revolution, as a powerful engine of transformation, is a stress-test for our societies, confronted as they are continually with value choices at national, regional and global level. The way societies respond to this stress-test will close or widen the emerging gaps in values across the globe and within the transatlantic arena.

First, there is obviously a risk of diverging values globally and here the transatlantic digital agenda has a crucial role to play.

On both side of the Atlantic, we recognise that digital technology drives innovation, competitiveness, and sustainable growth, and that it gives a voice to people who are oppressed.

And we all want to open up digital opportunities for people and business, not just as a source of growth and jobs, but because they bring a better life, foster freedom of expression and can stimulate democratic systems.

As a member of the European Parliament, I was closely involved in observing elections in many countries around the world as they made their first courageous steps on the road to democracy or cemented the progress they had made following a difficult period.

So I can personally testify to the importance of the EU and the US demonstrating our common commitment to values around the world. When we are united in standing up for our values, the rest of the world takes notice.

And the EU and the US have been natural allies in promoting these common values in the digital world - from open markets to human rights and freedom of expression online.

On many occasions, we join forces to oppose the centralisation of the Internet under the UN and to keep it open, free and driven by a multi-stakeholder system that made it what it is today. In the G20 we also join forces to promote market access and to defend the Intellectual Property Rights system that worked well for digital innovation.

Our digital agenda should build on this joint commitment and engage further in this direction.

But I think we need also to face the fact that the digital transatlantic partnership is far from immune to the risk of growing internal rifts linked to diverging values.

I am thinking here about privacy protection and net neutrality which are for us essential to ensure that the digital transformation respects people’s choices and benefits most, and not just the happy few; the tackling of illegal hate speech is also another example where our approaches are diverging.

Of course, some differences have always existed between us.

But this time, emerging rifts touch systemic issues which are part of the hardware of our economic systems: the way we protect citizens' privacy, the regulation of new digital ecosystems, and the responsibility of online platforms. I think it is important to be aware of this, of the risks that this may have on the dynamic of our relationship.

This is why I am strongly convinced that as part of our common digital agenda we should find ways to exchange more on these issues, to better manage them and to design specific instruments to bridge our differences, as we did, for instance, with the privacy shield on privacy protection.

Seizing opportunities

My third point is about seizing opportunities: our digital agenda should also focus on concrete actions that will reinforce our privileged and mutually beneficial relationship.

I see in particular two important areas: cybersecurity and connectivity including skills.

Firstly, on Cybersecurity…

Today, faced with the threat of populism, demagogy, protectionism and large-scale cyberattacks, the transatlantic digital partnership is needed more than ever to ensure a trusted and secure digital environment for our citizens and businesses.

The Commission just released a major package on cybersecurity which includes bold action on pan-European cybersecurity certification schemes for products and services as well as closer EU-internal coordination in the areas of research and technology development and operational cybersecurity. This will increase our collective resilience to attacks. I am sure that these measures will also offer a lot of opportunities for increased international cooperation – from standards to exchange of experience.

To protect transactions requires trustworthy electronic ID and electronic signatures and seals. We should build on what is already available within the EU and work towards international interoperability of these services.

Secondly, on Connectivity and skills…

The digital revolution will work only if everybody has online access via a high-speed connection. At the moment, only 15% of the world's population can afford one. Even in our countries, the situation is far from perfect.

People also need the right skills to use digital technologies throughout their lives, and be able to apply them both in a professional and in a private environment: this a huge challenge for our societies.

Better connectivity and digital skills are two challenges where the US and the EU can share experience, exchange best practices and cooperate to help third countries to increase their capacity to take up with the digital transformation.

One of the areas where we have made progress on skills is what we call our "Grand Coalition for Digital Skills". Here, we encouraged companies to make pledges to provide digital skills. Among the most enthusiastic companies involved in this European challenge were American companies, who understand the importance of developing a skill base here in Europe.

In a couple of weeks, I will be opening our European Code Week. This is a basically a voluntary initiative, but it has also benefitted from the support of a few US companies working here in Europe, support which has bene very useful and greatly appreciated.

Dear colleagues,

As reminded by the NIC, the future is not written and will depend on today’s actions. This is obviously true for the digital transatlantic partnership.

My message today is that there is now a real need to inject political capital and resources in explaining better our approaches for adjusting our economies and societies in the digital era.

We need to reinvigorate our transatlantic partnership by increasing our dialogue, discuss our differences, find a common understanding of how a global digital economy should look like and proactively engage the global community.

As you have understood, I logically welcome this initiative of the Aspen Institute Germany, the Atlantic Council and the Internet Economy Foundation, which bring us together tonight and which aim at building bridges on key digital issues across the transatlantic and creating a transatlantic platform for values-based dialogue.

My final word will be to reaffirm that you can also count on me and more generally on the EU as a partner to always defend the values that we have jointly supported for the last 70 years.

Thank you!