Gradually, digitalization, in its broadest sense, is beginning to have a prominent place on the political agenda of governments and institutions. This is a transversal and multidimensional challenge for society as a whole, affecting health, education, wealth creation, mobility, democratic freedoms, the free market, etc. Digital transformation can bring enormous benefits for people, companies – of all sizes – and society overall if the transition process is done in an orderly, rational, and inclusive way. The necessary transition also entails challenges and risks, as adjustments will have to be made and accepted; hence the importance of reaching consensus among all the parties involved. This is why we welcome the launch, by the Spanish Government, of a group of experts who will advise them on the creation of a Digital Rights Charter. Addressed here will be rights already recognized in Spanish legislation – for example, data protection – and more recent realities, such as new labour relations and artificial intelligence.
This initiative is necessary and also timely, coming at a moment when strategic priorities such as the European Data Strategy, the European Artificial Intelligence Strategy and regulation of digital services are being discussed in the EU. Discussions and negotiations in which not only the future of the internal market is at stake, but also the very role of the Union’s economy in the global context.
The tenacity of the facts seems to have now convinced those who were most unbelieving, and finally there is a consensus among the political class – business was in agreement long ago – on the delay and inconsistency in development of the digital economy in Europe.
This weakness is transferred to citizens’ digital rights, mortgaged in the face of imbalances in free competition. From this perspective, reflecting and agreeing on a digital rights charter should be a further link in creating an entire digital ecosystem based on democratic values and the freedom and equality recognised in the Union, an ecosystem connected to the European business fabric and its key strategic operators.
Digital rights, sovereignty and the business fabric
The group of experts has already begun to meet, telematically, under the direction of the Third Vice-President and Minister of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation, Nadia Calviño. The final drafting of the Digital Rights Charter will be the work of the government, after having taken into account contributions from these experts and a public consultation process, in which EADT will participate.
But proclaiming a series of digital rights can be just frustrating wishful thinking if they do not become a reality, and the road between a theoretical declaration and actual use can be very long. What does it depend on? How to make the road shorter? How to move from facts to practice?
We at the Association believe that the exercise of digital rights by Europeans is linked to the concept of sovereignty, in its three aspects: political, individual and economic (more details, in our manifesto). These rights of European citizens will be full when the EU has the capacity to apply them autonomously and not, as now, dependent on actors whose dominance of the markets – created largely by themselves – makes European technological independence purely an illusion.
We believe that the working group created in Spain should have more experts from the business world. That is, those who invest, experiment and interact in the new and complex digital constellation. From the news seen so far, the composition of this ‘committee of sages’ lacks an entrepreneurial lifeblood, people who know about the difficulties of innovating and implementing digital technologies in a competitive world and with markets that work imperfectly. We are not just talking about representatives from Spanish or European companies: the entrepreneurial, business and market perspective, of what is viable, possible and profitable, is essential in the discussion. And this would complement the approaches from academic experts, by far the most numerous in the group of experts. Europe needs to take its companies more into account if it wants to build a prosperous and independent digital economy, an economy that is in line with its values. This Spanish committee is a good idea that could be improved taking this principle into consideration.