Keynote address by European Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager to the IBEC conference
"Ireland as a leader in a strong, digital EU"
in Dublin, 30 September 2022
It’s a great pleasure to be here in Dublin - an old Viking city. Tomorrow is the first day of October, but in the Old Norse Calendar it is the month of Haustmánuður - the Harvest Month. For the Vikings of old Dublin and elsewhere, this was the most important time of the year. A good harvest was the difference between survival and famine. How carefully you planted and tended your crops over the summer - would determine everything.
Something similar can be said for Europe’s digital transition. To rise up to the challenges of the 21st Century - climate change and an increasingly polarised world order - we need the full power of the digital revolution at our backs. We need these digital tools to be trustworthy, to find greener solutions; solutions that achieve our ambitious goals while also making us better off. In an increasingly polarised world, we need our digital tools to maintain our economic heft. The EU’s strongest argument against economic nationalism and breaches of international law.
Sowing the seeds
So we have steadily been sowing the seeds of this transition. When it comes to digital, the NextGenerationEU plan is putting unprecedented financial resources into building the infrastructure and fostering the skills Europe needs. Ireland’s national plan foresees almost a billion euros in total spending. More than thirty per cent to be spent on digital projects; and the plan is expected to generate over six thousand new jobs by 2026.
I particularly admire that Ireland plans to spend 64 million euros on connectivity and equipment for disadvantaged learners in schools. Bridging the digital divide by investing in next generation skills is more than just good social policy. Because when we help everyone reach their full potential, those learners and workers will grow and blossom. And we will get a bigger digital harvest.
Planning the garden
This kind of investment is essential, but on its own it is not enough. Europe’s social market economy only works because we create well-regulated structures for our markets to operate in. We plan our garden plots rather carefully, with a rules-based framework and sensible regulatory choices. In this way, we create the legal certainty businesses need. And we defend the interests of European households.
The Digital Services Act is a great example. We want a vibrant and open internet - a free marketplace for goods and services. But we also want a marketplace for ideas. For that to work, we must protect fundamental digital rights. People must feel safe in the purchases they make, and in the content they choose to access. That means imposing certain obligations on digital service providers - especially large online platforms. They must take responsibility when it comes to traceability of sellers, the safety of products sold and the content they choose to put on their platforms – but also the content they choose the remove.
What is just as important is ensuring a level-playing field online. The Digital Markets Act addresses this, by giving the Commission new powers to act against harmful practices like certain forms of self-preferencing. The goal is to make sure that businesses relying on gatekeeper platforms to access their customers can do so on fair terms.
We also know Artificial Intelligence will play a big part in our economy and in our lives as the digital transition advances. So we have chosen to act. Our Artificial Intelligence Act is the first of its kind, setting the ground rules on how AI can and cannot be used, particularly for ‘high-risk’ applications like hiring decisions, loan applications or road safety. Because it is much easier to act before these systems start to take root.
Just this week, we proposed to complement the AI Act with updated liability rules, including a specific proposal on liability of AI systems. This should make it easier for consumers to claim compensation for damages caused by such systems. But we also ensure that the new rules are proportionate, so as not the stifle the legitimate use of AI solutions.
The recently proposed Cyber Resilience Act will ensure that products with digital elements we buy in the Single Market comply with strong cybersecurity safeguards. Like the AI Act, this is a first ever EU-wide legislation of its kind. It introduces mandatory cybersecurity requirements for digital products, such as connected objects and software, and puts responsibility where it belongs – with those that place the products on the market.
Pulling the weeds
Of course, laws only work when implemented. And by ‘implement’ I mean ‘enforce’.
For digital markets, that is something we have been doing for some time now. The Commission and the Member States have led the world in ensuring the big players in the new economy stick to the rules - whether that is to do with abuse of market dominance, killer acquisitions or unfair tax practices.
For the DMA, it is also now time to look at enforcement. It is our enforcement action that will bring changes on the ground. We’ve passed the first hurdle with the adoption of the legislation in record time. That was the easy part. Now expectations are high that Europe delivers the needed changes in how digital platforms operate. As the first global regulator of systemic big tech practices, we will have other jurisdictions watching. And for our enforcement to be a success, we will also rely on third-parties to detect non-compliance with the DMA or assess compliance proposals by gatekeepers.
The Digital Services Act is also gearing up for the enforcement and compliance phase. There, the Commission will also have direct supervision and enforcement powers for large online platforms - in serious cases we can impose fines of up to 6% of the global turnover of a service provider. In addition, the Digital Services Coordinator and the Commission will have the power to demand immediate actions to address harms, and the platforms will be forced to come up with remedies.
In history, the Vikings are usually remembered as raiders and plunderers. But in fact, their biggest accomplishment was in opening up huge parts of Europe to trade and cooperation. The Viking port of Dublin (longphort) was a gateway of connectivity.
When I come to Dublin today, I feel that it remains a ‘gateway of connectivity’. Your Silicon Docks bristle with the energy of the global economy.
Europe needs to harness this energy too. We want our vision of a trustworthy, well-managed digital future to carry across the world. To an extent, this has already happened. Ten years ago, our data protection laws set the standard internationally. Now, our digital regulations will become a ‘gold standard’ across the world.
With your help, we can amplify this effect. We can use our social market economy to make the Digital Age safer, healthier and fairer.
And in this way, we will all share in the bounty of the harvest.
- Publication date
- 30 September 2022
- Representation in Ireland