Digital Assembly 2017
Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen
It is a pleasure to be back in Malta, and so soon. Thank you for inviting me.
Digital issues are firmly on the global political agenda wherever you look – at the G7, G20, OECD, United Nations.
It is a clear sign of their socio-economic importance and political relevance.
Just 15 years ago – less than a generation – data flows barely existed.
Trade flows, on the other hand, have been with us for at least 200 years.
Now, after 20 years of growth, they have declined relative to GDP.
In contrast, data flows are surging between countries as they get progressively more connected. Digital has become a key part of today’s economic reality.
The Harvard Business Review summed this up neatly in the title of an article last year:
“Globalisation is becoming more about data and less about stuff”.
We have entered a new era of digital globalisation, defined by data flows that transmit information, ideas, and innovation.
And as data flows go global, Europe has to look beyond its borders.
So we are building a new single market – one that allows the freedoms of the single market that we created some 25 years ago to enter the digital age. It will give us the chance:
– to promote digital technologies for development;
– to steer global discussions on internet governance and technical standards;
– to push for a greater role for digital in our trade policy.
Digital has to be made an integral part of all policy areas – including development and foreign policy. That was the conclusion made by EU foreign ministers last November.
We have made a good start in implementing their call, based on the principles and approach of the DSM.
This is a good opportunity to build on its values, policies and regulatory models:
– fair and open competition, with predictable and stable market conditions for businesses, investors and consumers;
– an open and secure internet that facilitates the free flow of information;
– a strong focus on data protection, privacy and cybersecurity, as well as internet governance.
The DSM is Europe’s main asset in the international digital economy and society.
It spans different sectors as they embrace digital technology to innovate, become more efficient and stay globally competitive.
Industry, health, transport, agriculture – to name just a few. But digital reaches into other broad policy areas as well: trade and foreign relations, for example.
It reflects the growing importance of the digital economy for growth and jobs, for society, for business and consumers.
That not only applies to the DSM that we are building in Europe.
It is the same message that we have for the outside world.
With EU development policy, for example, digital is now embedded as an integral element.
By promoting digitisation, we aim to accelerate the economies of developing countries, particularly in Africa. Here, we have projects planned in areas like e-agriculture, digital skills, e-governance and cooperation on startups.
This is where European development policy can make a real difference on the ground.
Technology can help to eradicate poverty and promote sustainable development. But people have to know how to use it, learn from it and make the most of it – which is why promoting digital literacy and skills is part of the EU development agenda.
A few years ago, the EU developed the Eastern Partnership so that we could share the benefits of European integration across our eastern borders.
Digital helps us to make sure that it happens more quickly and effectively.
The EU wants to help the six partnership countries to develop their local digital economies, bridge the digital knowledge divide and better prepare the national workforce.
Trade and association agreements are another area with great digital potential.
They can promote and facilitate trade in data, and in goods and services – telecoms and e-commerce, for example, and eventually data flows as well.
They are useful for securing cooperation in digital policies, particularly on cybersecurity – standards, certification and labelling – to reinforce the security of connected objects globally.
And they are a good vehicle for tackling new forms of digital protectionism or other market access issues, by removing unjustified barriers that distort trade flows and investment.
However, this all depends on our partners matching EU standards on data protection – or adequacy, as it is called.
The Commission is looking at possible adequacy decisions with key trading partners in Asia, starting with Japan and South Korea. We have made sure that digital is properly included in ongoing trade negotiations with Latin American countries – Mexico, and the Mercosur group.
Ladies and gentlemen: we do not have to build the next Silicon Valley to profit from the new digital era and the opportunities that it offers.
But we do need to be linked into the global digital economy, and have the right infrastructure.
That is true for any country. Connections are a social and economic lifeline. Affordable and inclusive global connectivity is in everyone’s interests, wherever they are located.
The EU is playing its part here too – for example, by helping to fund the EU-Latin America submarine cable between Portugal and Brazil.
This long-awaited link will provide a direct fibre optic hook-up between Europe and South America, improving communications and cutting connection costs.
Of course, international cooperation on digital matters is not only about infrastructure.
The EU has a strong political and financial commitment to science and research cooperation. It works closely with its partners – directly and via numerous international bodies – on a wide range of related issues.
These include internet governance, cybersecurity, interoperability and the common technical standards needed for 5G and IoT technologies, cloud computing – among others.
Open cooperation and discussions are vital in all these areas.
Why? because they affect the whole of the world’s digital community, especially given the increasing importance of data flows in every type of global exchange.
In turn, that requires stable, open and predictable markets: another key foreign policy principle for the EU.
Overall, the EU’s position on the international digital stage is solid.
And that means a solid opportunity to promote the values of the DSM, to help create the right policy and regulation environment for the world’s developing digital economy.
A secure, fair and balanced global data economy that will serve everyone – wherever they are in the world. Thank you.