European elections 2019: science at the polls
In the context of the European elections, European Scientist is bringing you an overview of experts from different countries on various topics around science and science policy in Europe, in order to provide a panorama and analysis, which will be useful for the next commission.
The European Scientist: In the global race for digital transformation, where does Europe place?
David Lacombled: It has to be said that Europe has to compete with two continents which are particularly efficient in the digital sector. The United States, on the one hand, a liberal democracy with a deregulated economy, and China-Asia-Pacific, on the other hand, authoritarian regimes with command economies. However, the two rivals have one thing in common: they support their companies.
Europe seems a little lost in the middle, snarled up in its desire to defend consumers even at the risk of slowly killing entrepreneurship dead.
However, we do have many assets to bring into play. Over and above mere talent, or their already somewhat debatable education systems, there are our knowledge and know-how, our open-mindedness; Europe is a distillate of humanity: a standard-bearer of values, altruism, and a repository of world culture.
All these qualities should allow us to come out on top. Life and human rights are sacred notions, and it is accepted that the struggle to preserve them is very real and current – notions which do not have the same meaning and value on other continents. I dare say this will undoubtedly be an advantage for them in humankind’s technological progress. It is a potential position of strength from which we can propose an alternative model for the development of the digital world, both free and open.
With an eye to this, our cultural heritage and inventiveness provide a strong foundation for nurturing but also transcending the race for a digital world. Thanks to digital technology, the Alexandria Library exists. All knowledge and information is accessible. But you still need a librarian in there.
ES: What is your view of the GDPR?
DL: As we celebrate the first anniversary of the GDPR, we can rejoice in the implementation of this arsenal which has confronted players in the digital arena with their responsibilities, while raising awareness among citizens, even if for many this is only in their professional lives.
This regulation has been the source of a multitude of new understandings, personal reflections and public debates which have taken root and sprung up. This has helped everyone to realise that the illusion of free services actually came at a price.
This is a very good example of the implementation of subsidiarity, which should guide Europe across the board. The proof is that other countries are starting to look at it. From regulation to standard, however will be a giant leap forward.
With that in place, our data cannot be used without your consent. But this consent is often given, with just a click, because we want to get to the content, including on this site. This will be one of the major challenges in the revision of the e-Privacy Directive.
Do I give my agreement by default (by accepting cookies, as is the case today) or by being even more demanding? The risk is that if the sites no longer have access to the data, they will no longer be able to fulfil the service correctly, even if it is just because you will no longer be recognized when you go to a site or application.
It is up to companies to act responsibly to preserve the freedom of their consumers.
ES: What should the next commission do to encourage the development of this transformation? Do you have any recommendations?
The digital single market has to make the shift from redundancy to hyperbole. Support for it and development of it must be encouraged and amplified. However we need to ensure that despite this we do not appear to be a single country for the purposes of taxation. Taxing the GAFA companies is the only common and prominent manifesto issue for all candidates in France for the European elections. Even though they know full well that the Council is not of one mind on the issue. Unfortunately, the rest of the digital manifesto programmes are more famine than feast.
We are fortunate to have really forward thinking states within the Union. I am thinking in particular of Estonia. Certainly, other countries should take inspiration from it to review their own mechanisms for serving their citizens and also in the development of the digital ecosystem where business is encouraged. Not hindered but honoured.
David Lacombled is a French author and lecturer. He is president of “La Villa Numeris”, a think tank on the digital economy, and regularly appears in the French newspaper L’Opinion.