This article is part of our special report Towards a gigabit society: from ambition to reality.
Digital transformation of the way Europeans live and do business is one of the priorities of the Portuguese EU Council presidency, which ends on 30 June. To find out how much has been achieved, and what Portugal’s successor, Slovenia, should pursue, EURACTIV spoke to Hugo Santos Mendes, Portugal’s deputy minister for communications.
Accelerating the digital transformation is one of the priorities of the Portuguese Presidency that is going to end next month. What would you say are the main achievements of the presidency in the digital sphere?
Recognizing the digital transition as a driver for a sustainable economic recovery, the Portuguese Presidency has been committed to promoting European digital leadership and autonomy. Our goals have been to ensure the digital empowerment of European citizens and the establishment of a reliable model for the data economy. We also advocated for an EU framework on Artificial Intelligence (AI) that promotes trust and transparency for AI applications, fostering their widespread uptake by economic actors, notably SMEs and start-ups.
As a part of the legislative initiatives, I would like to highlight the Data Governance Act. Portugal considers it is the EU’s interest to reduce legislative and non-legislative barriers to the free movement of data by ensuring consistency with existing legislation, namely the GDPR and the Open Data Directive.
In this sense, I am particularly pleased to refer the signature of the Ministerial Declaration “European Data Gateways as a key element of the EU’s Digital Decade” as a call to action that aims to advance the EU as a world-class data hub.
What were the main challenges that you have to address in your digital agenda?
We are working hard to reach these objectives by focusing our attention on legislative files of enormous opportunity and relevance. The Ministerial Declaration “European Data Gateways as a key element of the EU’s Digital Decade” and the still ongoing Data Governance Act proposal required many bilateral and multilateral conversations. I have to leave a word of gratitude to Member States’ delegations for their work and valuable contributions to the progress made. We are honoured to hold the Presidency during a time as critical as today.
In March, the European Commission launched the Digital Decade targets for 2030. The Presidency consequently promoted the signature of three declarations on Digital Day 2021. How will these commitments help European countries to achieve the digital targets?
The goals inscribed in the Digital Compass are part of a model based on European values and rights. Portugal welcomes them greatly, and has provided three strong contributions, in the shape of three Ministerial Declarations:
(i) “Start-up Nation Standards”: A declaration to coalesce policies with the aim of harmonizing the European ecosystem of start-ups and reinforcing them through supports. We want Europe to retain start-up investments and avoid drainage of resources to other continents.
(ii) “European Data-Gateway Platform Strategy”: the EU has the potential to become a competitive, world-class data hub where data is stored, shared and processed in a secure way. However, in order to become digitally sovereign and to make autonomous technological choices, the EU needs to ensure future proof high quality connections to the rest of the world. This declaration will contribute to prepare Europe for the exponential increase in data flows and was signed in the light of the inauguration of the Ellalink cable, linking Europe, Africa and Latin America.
(iii) “A Green and Digital Transformation of the EU”: A declaration aimed at increasing Europe’s role in the global leadership of the green and digital transition. We need to involve industry to speed up the transition of the ICT sector to a sustainable, climate-neutral, circular economy.
The Portuguese Presidency has also tried to promote international connectivity, notably pursuing partnerships with the United States and India. What is your strategy when building these partnerships? What are you trying to achieve with them?
The European Union’s partnership with the United States of America is the world’s foremost and closest relationship, rooted in shared values and common interests, cultural and historic ties. It is also a geopolitical reality of strategic importance for the EU. A renewed transatlantic agenda is necessary to find joint answers to global challenges. The common goals on sustainable connectivity are essential, as well as maintaining our technological edge and dealing with cybersecurity issues.
Concerning India, relaunching relations with this strategic partner is of major importance for the Portuguese Presidency, and it was translated into the political commitment of our government on the holding of the Union Leaders’ Meeting (8 May). Considering the EU-India shared vision on sustainable connectivity, New Delhi is an important partner for the development of international connections with the necessary capacity to keep up with increasing data flows.
Slovenia will soon take over the presidency of the Council. What is your advice for them? Which are the most pressing digital challenges for the European Union?
We believe the priorities will be the establishment and promotion of digital rights and principles, digital education, digital democracy, digital government, as well as the implementation and strengthening of communication networks and data systems in Europe. In legislative terms, of particular importance are the Artificial Intelligence Act, the Data Governance Act (DGA), the Digital Services Act (DSA), the Digital Markets Act (DMA), and the ePrivacy Regulation.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]