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(Europe/Digital) EU seeking strategic autonomy in digital realm (Global Times)

Outgoing US President Donald Trump’s social media accounts and content have been blocked or restricted by multiple global online media and platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube, which has aroused doubts around the world. German Chancellor Angela Merkel finds Twitter’s decision to ban President Donald Trump’s account “problematic,” her spokesperson said, showing EU’s  vigilance toward US internet giants.

Not long ago, the European Commission announced the Digital Markets Act, which mainly targets large American internet giants. Companies abusing their market position in the EU to stifle competitors will be punished. Defining large internet companies with monopolistic market positions as “gatekeepers” in the digital sector, the EU pledged to heavily punish them for violations, including hefty fines ranging from 6 to 10 percent of their global revenues. If monopolistic  activities cannot be banned, it is possible to split these enterprises.

The EU has been making continuous moves regarding rules of the digital realm for a long time, from strategic to legal levels, publishing almost 10 documents with global influence. It not only shows the extent of the EU’s strategic autonomy in the digital area, but also reflects the increasing crisis awareness of the EU in the digital era. When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber-security areas, the EU has nearly become a bystander, adding to the less-than-stellar development of its internet sector, which has hurt the EU’s pride and motivated it to catch up.

By clearly pointing out the US as a rival in the digital realm, the EU has finally come to the right position and found the essential reason of its lagging development in the sector. The EU once regarded “internet freedom” proposed by the US as a criterion, believing that it, as an ally, should adopt the same governance philosophy and policies, suggesting the internet is a perfect autonomous system and the government should not interfere in the development of the digital space in any way.

Under the “Internet freedom” standard, the EU has become a dreamland of large American Internet companies, and its entire internet ecology is completely controlled by US companies.

With nearly 500 million internet users, the EU has a sound industrial base and a team of talents. It has long proposed to vigorously promote the digital economy and establish a Digital Single Market. However, under the US firms’ monopoly, European players have recorded tough growth, without one growing into a world-class company.

The absence of governmental regulation and the abdication of sovereign rights over the digital realm could be a big lesson for the EU. Following the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018, the EU continues to strengthen its top-level design in the digital area and plans for its future in the arena.

Moreover, the rollout of the Digital Market Act signals that the wrestling between Europe and the US in the digital sector has entered a new phase.

With the PRISM surveillance program revealing that the US was spying on EU leaders, and France’s imposition of a “digital tax” on Google, Amazon and other companies, the contradictions between the US and Europe in the area have been increasing. Against the backdrop of evolving global order of cyberspace, the EU’s measures are of great significance in reconstructing the rules of the sector.

The EU’s Digital Market Act was rolled out almost simultaneously with China’s efforts to strengthen antitrust in the internet sector and prevent the unregulated expansion of capital. Rather than just a coincidence, it also shows that the two sides are facing the same challenges, especially when it comes to maintaining sovereignty in the digital realm and making related public policies.

Earlier in 2010, China, together with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization members, proposed at the United Nations that public policy of the internet sector was under the sovereignty of a country, which was then questioned by the EU as it might undermine “internet freedom.”

With concepts of digital sovereignty, data sovereignty and technology sovereignty successively being rolled out by the EU, together with its increasingly improved public policies, it showed the EU’s return in digital realm, as well as the policy convergence of China and Europe, though more efforts are needed to transform the growing consensus between China and the EU in the digital sector into mutual trust.