Keynote speech by President Charles Michel at the Tallinn Digital Summit
By President Charles Michel
It’s both a pleasure and a challenge to speak to you today. When it comes to digital, Estonia stands at the vanguard in Europe. And this Tallinn Digital Summit is the place to be. Estonia is geographically on the periphery of the EU, but you have positioned yourself at the very heart of our digital revolution.
Today I’d like to outline the role that digital must play in the overall strategy of the European Union. Our guiding principles, our goals, and the concrete action we are taking in this field.
A global transformation
Our Strategic Agenda centres on our twin transitions: climate and digital. The European Council took this decision before COVID and before the “build back better” approach of our post-Covid world. The pandemic has injected greater urgency, and more reasons, to pursue our transformational path to a more sustainable and fairer model. We want to transform Europe, and we want a better world. We need more prosperity and more fairness.
Our main goals
Digital is one of the fastest-growing sectors – it creates jobs and drives economic growth. It brings new products and services to market and unleashes the full potential of innovation. Digital is a cross-cutting tool that is revolutionising countless sectors and energising countless areas of our lives. And most crucially, it is driving forward the green technologies that will protect our planet. Data-driven climate decisions, for example, will be more precise and effective. And digital monitoring will allow for more efficient use of energy and resources. And in healthcare, the data industry is already modernising public health management.
We want to make Europe more autonomous. In our interconnected world, a certain amount of interdependence is normal, even desirable. But dependency is not desirable. Europe must strive for more influence, and less dependence. That applies both to our digital strategy and our geopolitical strategy.
A few guiding principles
So how do we pursue these goals? First, we must put them in our broader connectivity strategy. This strategy should be anchored in our values and reflected in our standards. This will bolster our autonomy and drastically reinforce our cybersecurity.
We must develop a common view and an ambitious EU vision on connectivity. Kaja Kallas has just outlined a number of inspiring ideas on this topic. Connectivity refers not only to physical infrastructure and networks. It encompasses a wide range of ventures and policies aimed at bringing people and societies closer together. This is what Europe’s engagement with the world is all about.
But on the other hand, some blocs are working on connectivity to create deep dependencies. They are not waiting for us. Their connectivity offers are already on the table, according to their economic and political interests. So we need to up our game. We are already forging broad connectivity partnerships with like-minded countries such as India, Japan, the US and Canada. And we are tailoring our offer to meet the specific needs and expectations of our partners around the world.
We want to develop greater cooperation. This is true not just for the Western Balkans or the Eastern Partners but equally for our Central Asian partners, Africa, and elsewhere. But we must do more – be more strategic, be more streamlined – and better market and brand our offer. This is trusted connectivity. And most importantly, it should reflect our European vision of what a partnership should be – fair, balanced, and human-centred. There is still work to strengthen such an offer. It will require leadership and collective action. The European Council is ready to play its key role.
Our digital strategy must be based on our values: human rights and fundamental freedoms in human-centred societies. Our standards should be based on trust and transparency. Transparency does not only mean that people must know how their personal data is used. Transparency must also apply to finance, taxes, or the way in which algorithms are deployed. Fairer taxation of international business is a key topic in the eyes of the public. Integrating the price of carbon in international trade is a matter of fairness in the fight against climate change.
Trust also means accountability. Citizens want to know the State’s budget is well spent. They want to know that new development projects respect their health and their environment. We in the EU have a powerful tool: our regulatory power. The famous “Brussels effect”. We are the leading standard-setter in the world.
Digital sovereignty is key to our strategic autonomy. And we are working hard to make this happen, for instance, moving from 5G to 6G and advancing the idea of a low earth orbit satellite. In the area of semiconductors, Commissioner Breton is driving forward the European alliance on microprocessors. I am confident that the E-identity will be another step in promoting our overall digital sovereignty.
This brings me to the critical topic of security, which relates to the “trust” factor, I mentioned earlier. Cyber-security is a key condition for greater influence on the global scene. The latest high profile cyberattacks in Europe have shone a spotlight on the urgency of building a sound cybersecurity system. This domain is basically a national competence. But the threats are global, and the attackers are global. That’s why a proper response should lie in the EU’s overall cyber resilience. Such an approach could include promoting greater collaboration among Member States, boosting national capacities and European industries, and launching ambitious education and training programmes across the EU.
The leaders’ digital agenda of the next months
So where do we stand concretely on our digital strategy? First, several major legislative proposals are now on the table: the Data Governance Act, the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Acts, the Artificial Intelligence Act and the E-identity bill. These proposals are currently being discussed by legislators, Council, and parliament. And we will give fresh impetus to this at our next regular meeting of the European Council in October. The Digital Compass, requested by the European Council, with key targets for 2030, will also be on the agenda for this meeting.
We have a clear vision for our digital future. It is anchored in concrete goals and ambitious targets. And most importantly, it is a digital future that serves our people and builds inclusive societies. Today’s digital revolution is a massive opportunity to improve our quality of life across countless areas of our societies. It is a cornerstone of the EU’s strategy for more prosperity, more well-being, more freedom and more autonomy. Our digital model will offer inspiration far beyond our borders – of European openness and confidence.