The EU digital strategy: how it started, how it’s going and what is missing

May 17, 2022

On 17 and 18 May the second edition of the PublicSpaces conference took place in Amsterdam. Under the title “🔥 The Time is NOW!” more than 200 activists, policymakers, academics and other professionals got together to discuss the state of the Digital Public Space in the Netherlands and beyond. 

As our contribution to the conference program, Open Future hosted a session on the state of affairs of EU digital policy-making halfway through the term of the current European Commission, which examined the progress made on key legislative files included in the Commission’s Digital Strategy

Moderated by Paul Keller, the discussion brought together  Kim van Sparrentak (MEP, Groen Links), Lotje Beek (Bits of Freedom), Claudine Vliegen (Permanent Representation of the Netherlands in Brussels) and Tamar Sharon (Radboud University Nijmegen).

The recording of the live stream is also available on the PublicSpaces Conference #2 website.

The session took a look at the digital legislation in three acts: Act #1 (from 08:15 in the above video) looked at the files that have recently been adopted by the EU legislator — the Digital Services Act, The Digital Markets Act and the Data Governance Act). Act #2 (from 40:35 in the video) looked at the files that are currently being discussed — the Data Act and the Artificial Intelligence Act. Finally, Act #3 (from 1:15:50 in the video) looked at what is missing from the regulatory agenda — policies aimed at creating viable public alternatives to the exiting digital platforms.

One conclusion of the discussion was that the lack of EU level policies and instruments aimed at supporting digital public spaces and infrastructures is something that needs to be changed if we want viable alternatives to emerge and sustain themselves. This insight wove like a red thread through the conference. If alternative social networks build on “small social networking” principles — that were the focus on day two of the conference — are to succeed in the long run they need to be part of a larger interoperable public digital space that ensures that they can co-exist with the existing systems without having to depend on the same problematic business models that have shaped the current social media landscape.

This insight requires long-term thinking from policy makers and the time is now to start thinking about what policy frameworks are needed to support the emergence and sustainability of a new wave of platforms that are committed to shaping a digital public space organized on the principles of the digital commons.

Note: while most of the event was held in Dutch, a number of other sessions took place in English (or have been translated into English). This includes the opening keynote on “Autonomy in Times of Big Tech” by Miriam Rasch (recording here), the presentation of the PubHubs — a new open and privacy-friendly social network developed by José van Dijck and Bart Jacobs (recording here)  and the closing panel (“What’s next”) with among others MEP Paul Tang and Ethan Zuckerman (recording here).

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