European Commission puts forth EU’s values and principles for the digital age

EU Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager (L) and European Commissioner in charge of internal market Thierry Breton (R) give a press conference on the proposal for a European declaration on digital rights in Brussels, Belgium, 26 January 2022. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The European Commission presented on Wednesday (26 January) a draft declaration on digital rights and principles which will complement the digital targets Europe aims to reach by 2030.

The declaration, which will have to be co-signed by the European Parliament and Council, is intended to provide a value-based benchmark for policymakers and private actors dealing with digital technologies.

“We want safe technologies that work for people and that respect our rights and values,” said the Commission’s digital chief, Margrethe Vestager. “This declaration gives us a clear reference point to the rights and principles for the online world.”

The initiative primarily draws from the December 2020 Berlin Declaration, in which EU member states committed to seven principles for a value-based digital government.

The Commission’s declaration will not provide any new rights, as fundamental rights already apply online, from the right to privacy to freedom of expression. Therefore, the intention is to gather all existing rights relevant to the digital age in a single place, establishing a point of reference for the EU’s idea of a digital environment.

The so-called human-centric approach is at the centre of this vision, focused on solidarity and inclusion. The practical implications might range from ensuring access to high-speed connectivity to providing basic digital skills to everyone and making sure users have control over their personal data.

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The EU executive also stressed the complementarity of the initiative with existing policy proposals.

The freedom to make an informed choice is ensured with the transparency requirements in the AI Act and Digital Services Act. The capacity to participate in the digital public space is also accounted for in the DSA and the upcoming Media Freedom Act.

Safety and security online are addressed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and cybersecurity initiatives. Sustainability is ensured in the way digital technologies are used to deliver the Green Deal.

The declaration is the second pillar of the EU executive’s vision for the so-called Digital Decade, a decisive moment for Europe’s digital transformation until 2030. The first pillar was the Digital Compass, a set of targets the European Commission set in March last year.

In September, the Commission also presented a governance framework to regularly monitor the progress of the EU countries in the context of the Digital Decade. The annual reporting will evaluate the performance of the member states against set targets and their respect for the principles set out in the declaration.

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In presenting the initiative, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton stressed that Europe represents a third way between the American approach, dominated by major corporate stakeholders, and the Chinese approach, dominated by the state.

The declaration is meant to embody this European approach, based on values and a humanist vision of the digital space.

Vestager, for her part, noted that there are similar discussions ongoing in Australia, India, and the United States and highlighted significant convergence between the European approach and the US Digital Bill of Rights.

“With this declaration, we aim to be in the forefront of this global momentum and create something that allows us to take action on the ground and to inspire like-minded partners,” Vestager added.

The European Parliament and Council have been invited to discuss the declaration and sign it this summer.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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