EU digital sovereignty at risk if global tech giants can’t respect IP rights

MEP warns that digital sovereignty will remain a mirage if European digital champions do not have the same rights to enter foreign markets as those attempting to enter the EU

MEP Josianne Cutajar has warned that European digital sovereignty and the success of global tech companies in the European Union (EU) depend on the need to speak the same language in terms of governance and, crucially, the protection of intellectual property rights.

Speaking at the Huawei Innovation Day and Huawei eco-Connect Europe in Paris, the Maltese European Parliament member said that despite the fact that she saw conflict everywhere in terms of “trade wars, cyber wars and green wars”, she believed the fourth industrial revolution offered the opportunity to lead again.

This, she said, would be accelerated by the EU’s Horizon Europe and Digital Europe programmes, which were designed to enable the EU to get much-needed support to foster new tech solutions on many crucial issues, from cyber security to 5G, and deliver digital sovereignty for the EU.

Yet Cutajar also bluntly observed that achieving the goal of digital sovereignty would remain a mirage if European digital champions did not have rights to enter foreign markets and enjoy the same privileges as those attempting to enter the EU.

Cutajar said that through “the mists of chaos”, there was opportunity. “Being afraid makes us protective and defensive,” she added. “Instead of opening doors, some choose to close them. We ought to embrace our values of peace, dialogue and sustainability. The world yearns for Europe to take the lead, bringing balance and order through its own values.”

This balance was between openness and protection, she said. Although one way to remain sovereign was to regulate, distant and detached policy-makers would slow and stifle innovation, she added. By contrast, Cutajar insisted that innovation would be supported by upholding standards and due diligence, and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was a great example. 

Regulation is not a means to control non-EU companies – it is an invitation to Europe at the highest of standards,” she said. “For sovereignty to be meaningful, acknowledged standards enabling and facilitating [business] takes Europe forward. It requires us to nurture the digital world.”

The digital world depended on the right kinds of partnership whereby a sustainable relationship between bodies such as the EU and global tech giants was forged on the concept of open collaboration between equals, she said, and there were three basic elements – dialogue, transparency and reciprocity.

Cutajar added: “We need to speak the same the same language in governance and in the protection of intellectual property rights. Reciprocity depends on a willingness to collaborate together.”

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