The Nordic Region as a spearhead
When it comes to digitalisation, the Nordic Region is already considered a pioneer and a natural partner for the EU. The EU Index for Digital Economy and Social Development (DESI Index) ranks Finland, Sweden and Denmark at the top, closely followed by Estonia.
The Finnish Minister responsible for digitalisation, Sirpa Paatero, highlights Nordic-Baltic co-operation on electronic ID (the NOBID project) as a key initiative. Paatero is also responsible for digitalisation in the Nordic Council of Ministers, of which Finland holds the Presidency this year. She emphasises that interoperability in national electronic ID solutions is fundamental to the development of a shared platform for cross-border digital services.
Nordic-Baltic co-operation on digitalisation is helping the EU achieve its goals. In some areas, we are also seeking to implement EU legislation more quickly than is possible throughout the whole of the EU
“We completely agree that Europe needs a digital identity – one that is not controlled by the technology giants but is user-driven. Users must have control over their own identity and decide what personal information they want to share. At the same time, it is important that national e-IDs are secure and based on trust. Nordic-Baltic co-operation on digitalisation is helping the EU achieve its goals. In some areas, we are also seeking to implement EU legislation more quickly than is possible throughout the EU,” says Paatero.
The public sector is also an important factor in the digital future and another area in which the Nordic Region is further ahead than many EU member states. Miapetra Kumpula-Natri MEP, Vice-Chair of the Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age, thinks digitalisation of the public sector is an essential safeguard for the future of the welfare state.
“We also need to bring the public sector on board with digitalisation. This is often forgotten in European discussions. Usually, the focus is on the private sector, new companies, innovation and economic growth. The Nordic countries have a better understanding of the fact that the public sector cannot remain stuck in the 1990s while the private sector continues to develop. That would not be good for our public services,” says Kumpula-Natri.
We can shape the future
The technology giants’ control of digital platforms takes many forms. It is also seen as a threat to the EU’s internal market and consumer safety, as it leads to dangerous and counterfeit products being bought and sold online. The dominance of the large online markets also pushes new and smaller players out of the market. This is harmful not only to consumers, business and innovation but also to society as a whole. Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, has been tasked with doing something about it. One of her most important allies is digitalisation expert Werner Stengg, who believes that the era of tech giants thinking themselves above the nation state will soon be over. The EU has now drawn up a strategy to make sure this is the case.
We must not just constantly adapt. We believe that Europe has the strength and the political will to create a digital future that works for both companies and people
“We have called the EU strategy ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’, which was a very deliberate choice of terminology. We know that we can shape the future. We must not just constantly adapt. We believe that Europe has the strength and the political will to shape the digital future so that it works for both companies and people,” he says
Digitalisation creates differences
Both Nordic and European participants in the discussion expressed concern that home schooling and isolation are creating differences between young people and that lockdown has revealed a generation gap in digital skills. The problem comes as no surprise to the President of the Nordic Council, Bertel Haarder.
“No, It’s not a surprise to me. Resourceful young people with digital skills have learned a lot during lockdown. Other have quite probably not learned as much and will have a lot of catching up to do. We also have a big gap between the generations, which is a problem for the welfare state. On top of that, there is a gap between students and teachers who lack digital skills. The only way to solve this is education, education and education,” he says.
The European Commission has adopted an action plan for digital education that is designed to be inclusive and accessible to all. Sabine Verheyen, who chairs the Committee on Culture and Education in the European Parliament, believes that this is another area in which the Nordic countries can serve as role models.
“In many ways, the Nordic Region was better prepared for lockdown because you had developed a strategy for digital education earlier than other regions,” she stressed.
However, even the Nordic Region can do better, according to Marianne Synnes Emblemsvåg, a member of the Nordic Council and its Committee for Knowledge and Culture in the Nordic Region. She says that the Nordic Region needs a separate action plan to implement the work the EU has already started.
In many ways, the Nordic Region was better prepared for lockdown because you had developed a strategy for digital education earlier than other regions
The Way Forward
The European Commission has a four-year timescale for its project “Europe Fit for the Digital Age”. The European Parliament is also working on several new bills designed to improve network security and exert greater control over digitalisation.
The Nordic Council of Ministers has just decided to extend the mandate of the Council of Ministers for Digitalisation until 2024. From the outset, Nordic-Baltic co-operation has worked intensively on and adapted to the EU’s various digitalisation initiatives. The technical solution for the Nordic-Baltic e-ID project is already in place. It is now up to the national governments to establish links between the respective national agencies.
Later this month, Commissioner Vestager will meet the Nordic-Baltic ministers responsible for digitalisation to discuss how Nordic-Baltic co-operation can be strengthened and what role the region can play as the EU progresses toward a green digital future. The Nordic Council will continue to play its part in discussions about digitalisation.
See the whole discussion here:
The Nordic Region and the EU’s development strategy for a digital future was the theme of a webinar held under the auspices of the Nordic Council. More than 30 Nordic and European parliamentarians and experts came together to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the digital age.
The Danish MEP Morten Løkkegaard is also a member of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. He says we have already seen shocking examples of how badly wrong things can go and the threats that uncontrolled digitalisation poses to democracy, citing the recent storming of the US Congress as an example.
Some tech giants even believe that they are somehow above nation states
“It is a clear example of digital platforms being used to create an alternative reality that blurs the distinction between the digital world and the real world and can even spark violence. Hate speech, misinformation and attempts to interfere in elections are all serious dangers to democracy. Some tech giants even believe that they are somehow above the nation states,” says Løkkegaard.
The power struggle between Australia and Facebook is another obvious example. The dispute arose when Facebook blocked the sharing of news to its Australian users in response to the proposed new law requiring that Facebook pay for copyrighted material published on its platform.
Pyry Niemi, chair of the Nordic Council Committee for Growth and Development in the Nordic Region, shares the EU’s concern about the power of global technology companies and their influence on development.
“Digital development will have both positive and negative effects on society. It will affect the labour market, education, our welfare models and us as consumers. If we come up with the right political tools, more people will benefit from digitalisation. If we fail to do so, it will increase social inequalities and exclude vulnerable groups. We can’t do it as individual nation states either. We have to work together at European level,” says Niemi.