Final remarks – Luukas Kristjan Ilve
Luukas Kristjan Ilves, Counsellor for Digital Affairs at Permanent Representation of Estonia to the EU.
So, what I actually want to try and do is describe a similar challenge that we faced in trying to look at the breadth of these topics and distil a bit of certainty and a bit of some types of plans out of a range of discussions where, frankly, it’s everywhere.
I mean, professor Floridi used a metaphor of the mangrove, but we who live on the Baltic Sea, we’re used to brackish water that isn’t really fresh water and isn’t really salt water – you can drink it although I don’t really recommend it.
But that’s the world we’re in now, there isn’t a change today that isn’t digital. If you look around Brussels, you have DG CONNECT and you have the people who are dealing with digital policy in the classical narrow sense of the word.
But there isn’t a piece of EU legislation today a piece of work being done by the lawmaker that isn’t somehow about the digital.
And so, the intellectual challenge then is to maintain some kind of coherence of agenda as you do all of that. I mean we’ve been trying to do this as we put together the political plans for our EU presidency, which is our sort of short 6-month period, where we get to draw attention to some of these questions.
And it’s been very difficult because at the end of the day, the program is meaningless. You can’t generalize, you can’t come up with clear narratives and at the same time really touch on everything. The one bit that we would like to offer to the debate, in the next six months is to try and take some of the aspects of the economic agenda that Europe is working on and give them something a bit more permanent than simply a strategy.
To sort of see if we can come up with something that is as enduring as a free movement of data, of labour or of services and goods in the single market that actually gives awesome sticking power. We will be talking a lot about the free movement of data as a freedom of the EU in the next 6 to 7 months.
Now that’s something that often gets people riled up, because they effectively assume that that means that all the questions of a well regulated market go out the window.
Now, when we talk about the free movement of labour or goods and services in the EU that simply doesn’t mean a neo-liberal dream. There are a lot of restrictions. One of the questions we talk about when we talk about freedom and free movement when it comes to the digital world, is also what the sensible restrictions are.
In particular one of the questions we’re going to have to deal with is something that again the liberals look at from the perspective – I don’t mean the political group – as a positive thing. A sort of free movement of data in terms of getting rid of localization restrictions. It’s also a chance to deal with some of the difficult jurisdictional issues that we have.
I mean we don’t have foremost administrative processes in an internet world a single European jurisdiction. Sometimes, that can be quite difficult. Now, if we look at these questions as a whole the good news is that the very highest level of government the prime ministers, the heads of state and government, they really get that this is an issue. If you talk to Mr. Macron, Mrs. Merkel – they say all of these questions as a whole collectively are things they need to deal with and they need to grapple with.
The challenge however is how to grow from the very good high-level intend to actually get government to work on them in a more practical level. And if you look at the Rome declaration which the heads of state and government adopted in Rome in March, every single one of the brought topics they talked about impact the themes that you’ve been talking about these last two days.
We talked about sustainability, the future of society, security needs of European citizens, we talked about Europe’s role on the global stage, and of course economic questions, every one of these could equally well be rewritten into a treatise on what we do, given the digital changes in the world today.
However, the challenge then is to pull the prime minister’s into saying something coherent on the subject, giving instructions to the rest of us their ministers and the armies of civil servants below them. To make some kind of lemonade out of those lemons.
On a very practical note on the night of 29th of September we have the privilege of hopefully gathering all of those heads of state and government for a day in Tallin and try to get them do exactly that. I hope that you stay tuned on that question.
Finally, I do want to give personally a bit of a digital native reaction to some of the questions that have come up here.
First of all, if we are talking about fake news and the difficulties of the information thrill we have today, yes Facebook has a role as a platform, but as long as we have the open internet nothing stops you from building your own feed aggregator and pulling together your own picture.
So, while we bemoan the difficulties we also need to be creating some practical bottoms up solutions. In general, one of the frustrations when we have these discussions, and this is a personal frustration, is that if we spend too much time talking about the social justice aspect purely in the context of problematizing them, and discussing the issues without putting forward fairly concrete proposals, those maybe policy proposals they may be technologies they may be in the services, then well – we’re going to continue to discuss these while the rest of the world races ahead of us.
If we talk about the gap between the Haves and the Have Nots, collectively we still are the Haves, I mean Europe is one of the wealthy parts of the world, my biggest fear is not that the gap between the Haves of Europe and the Have-nots of the rest of the world grows, my fear is actually as a European, is that gap becomes significantly smaller.
So, with that what I can promise you for the next six months is that in every policy area that the EU deals with, the Council of minister’s deal with will be looking at some of the digital aspects of those policy discussions everything from making taxation work and be more transparent, by use of government solutions to better law enforcement, dealing with hate speech.
I don’t think that we will have a single solution to everything, but we can at least humbly offer a platform for those discussions.