Digital and technological sovereignty: Europe’s new battle

, by Clara Paris, Eurosorbonne, translated by Tiffany Williams

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Digital and technological sovereignty: Europe's new battle

’European Magnifying Glass’ is a partnership between The New Federalist, our sister publication Le Taurillon, and three Paris-based webzines: Eurosorbonne, Voix d’Europe and Courrier d’Europe. In this instalment, we shine the spotlight on two issues raised during the 56th Munich Security Conference: cyber-sovereignty and implementing 5G.

During the Munich Security Conference, President Macron stated his intention to take a hard line against Russian interference with Western democracies. Russia is accused of having influenced the French and American elections via social networks. The challenge posed by the Internet and telecommunications is not only economic, but also hugely political. Cyber-sovereignty is now the new battleground of Europe.

Europe competes against the Internet giants

Cyber-sovereignty is a major challenge for Europe. The concept of cyber- sovereignty first appeared in the 2000s and was defined by the French Senate as “the ability of the State to act in cyberspace.” It is the political counterpart to cybersecurity. Edward Snowden’s disclosures in 2013 showed the power of American surveillance programmes, and more broadly, the vulnerability of states and citizens to technological dominance. Indeed, online networks - mainly Chinese (BATX) and American (Big Tech) - have changed the way we live. They have infiltrated into our private lives and public administrations. Their operation strikes fear in the hearts of Western democracies. Europe must therefore develop the capacity to bring network technology under control so that it doesn’t end up becoming a digital “buffet table” for the US.

In the absence of a European framework, some countries have taken their own course of action. France is one of them, whose decision to tax the ‘GAFAs’ in the name of [tax] equity has put them at risk of American retaliation. As it confronts the Internet giants siphoning off our data, Europe must unite to assert its sovereignty, and yet not become a “cyber-colony”.

5G: A fight for digital and technological sovereignty

At the centre of the debate on technological and cyber-sovereignty is the development of 5G networks by the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

The 5G implementation plan has sometimes been perceived as China’s “Trojan horse” into Europe. A highly controversial argument, and one that sparked a number of rows during the Munich Security Conference. Concerns persist over the potential consequences that side-lining Huawei for 5G development would have. The German Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, in fact said that breaking off Huawei would delay 5G implementation by 5 to 10 years. US representatives have reminded Europe that they fiercely oppose involving Huawei in the development of 5G within the EU, as in their view it would be a threat to NATO. Huawei, the best telecoms company in the world, has been banned from the United States, forcing consumers to seek out other providers.

The EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, has called on the EU to adopt alternative technologies so as to avoid total dependence on Chinese or American systems. The statement was intended to reassure European telecommunications companies like Nokia and Ericsson, who face fierce competition from Huawei. However, Breton also said that the EU remained open to Huawei developing 5G in Europe if it abided by EU legislation. China has hinted at the possibility of economic retaliation if the company is banned from the continent.

This is a major challenge for a Europe which has yet to establish its cyber-sovereignty. The EU must secure its technological independence to have a hope of facing down the Internet and telecommunications giants. Giving Huawei unrestrained license to develop and implement the 5G network would only serve to weaken the EU’s capabilities, and put European telecommunications infrastructures at a considerable disadvantage.

This article was originally published by our partner publication Eurosorbonne.

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