Public Spaces Conference 2023

June 27, 2023

On June 27th and 28th, the third edition of the PublicSpaces conference took place in Amsterdam. The conference was organised by Public Spaces, Waag Futurelab, Open Future and Pakhuis de Zwijger. As one of the conference partners, Open Future curated two sessions focusing on Digital Commons and Digital Public Infrastructures that rounded off the first day of the conference.

The discussion on Digital Commons was introduced by the Dutch Minister of Digitization, Alexandra van Huffelen.

In her video message, she stressed the importance of Digital Commons in supporting European digital sovereignty and expressed her support for civil society’s calls for creating a European Public Digital Infrastructure Fund to build public European alternatives to the dominant commercial platforms and services.

These opening remarks were echoed in most of the interventions during the first panel. Under the title “Building Digital Commons – A civil society perspective on public digital infrastructure,” Sophie Bloemen (Commons Network), Michiel Leenaars (NLnet), Olivia Vereha (Commit Global), and Sébastien Shulz (Société des Communs) outlined their visions for the digital commons and highlighted some of the challenges involved in building and maintaining digital infrastructure.

These challenges and suggestions were taken up in the final session – Investing in Digital Commons – How can EU Member States work together to support digital commons and other infrastructures? In this session, Henri Verdier, the French Digital Ambassador, outlined his vision for a European support structure for the Digital Commons, which is currently being developed in the form of a European Digital Infrastructure Consortium (EDIC) for the Digital Commons together with Germany, the Netherlands and a number of other Member States.

The need to build support infrastructures at the European level was also acknowledged by the other panellists Ron Rozendaal (Dutch Ministry of the Interior), Fiona Krakenbürger (Sovereign Tech Fund, DE), Marietje Schaake (Advisor to the European Commission), and Simona de Heer (European Parliament).

Both panels clearly showed that after a period characterized by a strong focus on the regulation of digital platforms and services, it is now time for the EU and Member States to invest in public alternatives, and it is encouraging to see that this recognition is shared by both civil society and policy makers. This points to a real opportunity to make European digital public spaces a reality in the coming years.

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