Open strategic autonomy: the digital dimension
Towards a European Digital Technology Stack
In recent years the European Union (EU) and its member states hesitantly embarked on a new and ambitious path towards what came to be called ‘digital and technological autonomy’. This paradigm shift involves a turn away from the market-based, open economy thinking that has dominated in European policy circles in recent decades. The new direction is towards a geostrategic, more closed economy thinking, with a shift from a focus on trade to technology.
Tech capability defines world leadership
Policies and instruments are being devised to secure public interests in the digital domain and to be resilient in an interconnected world wherein technological capability defines world leadership. This ranges from investing in telecommunications security and trusted connections, to preventing Big Tech from becoming too powerful and taking responsibility for misinformation online; and from ensuring a secure supply of the natural resources needed for microchips and batteries, to investing in digitally skilled citizens and clean and green technologies for a sustainable future. Europe’s aim is to cooperate with partners, but to act based on own insights and choices.
Clarifying interests and concerns
This report introduces the Digital Technology Stack (DTS) as an analytical framework to analyse the interests and concerns that inform Europe’s quest for digital and technological sovereignty . It considers instruments and policies in the eleven layers of the stack. The DTS is a combination of hardware and software technologies, as well as services, that are ‘stacked’ on top of each other to make a device or service work. Digital sovereignty is about having a choice at each layer of the Stack.
Ultimately, the EU and its member states need to develop a balanced approach to digital and technological sovereignty that incorporates both ‘promote’ and ‘protect’ actions, and that is agreed and supported by all government institutions. While the EU and its member states have in recent years invested in defensive action – implementing more stringent investment screening, export controls and an economic coercion instrument – policies to strengthen Europe’s own technological superiority and economic competitiveness in the digital economy are still lagging.
Digital sovereignty concerns us all
Better understanding among policymakers in all ministries/institutions is needed of the interconnections and the trade-offs among the many issues involved – ranging from stable and secure supply chains and semiconductors to competitiveness in the digital economy and internet governance.
In this age of rapid technological developments, digitalisation and global power shifts, digital sovereignty concerns us all. Improved understanding of this will contribute to improved policymaking and, ultimately, to greater EU unity, strength and resilience – all prerequisites for digital and technological sovereignty and, ultimately, for European strategic autonomy
Maaike Okano-Heijmans, Senior Research Fellow and Lead of ‘Geopolitics of Technology and Digitalisation’ programme at the Clingendael Institute