Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Opinion

Cybersecurity and defence for the future of Europe

  • This is the time when the European Union needs to make sure it is taking the right direction, with digitisation and security at the core. (Photo: Alessio Milan)

This is a time of change for the world and a time of opportunities for Europe. The European system of values is being challenged in its resilience by the global megatrends: globalisation, digitisation, migrations, artificial intelligence and rise of global threats.

This is the time when the European Union needs to make sure it is taking the right direction, with digitisation and security at the core. Our actions will only be decisive when we create a competitive, prosperous, resilient and secure Europe - for every European citizen.

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In this respect, Europe has much common ground to come together in digitisation and cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity often pops up when we speak about risks and threats. However, cybersecurity - and security in general - is more than that.

Cybersecurity is a digital and technological enabler for industrial modernisation, for effective defence and for successful development of artificial intelligence.

Cybersecurity is a core element of Europe's whole digital infrastructure and of the Digital Single Market itself. Only with this mindset will Europe become a global leader in digital technologies and a secure place for its citizens.

There are several strategic challenges in cybersecurity where political decisiveness is needed in Europe. Cybersecurity is primarily a strategic and political issue, and also more strategic-political-social research analysis is needed.

Moving faster than ever

Without a credible and self-sufficient European cybersecurity industry, Europe will lack digital competitiveness. Europe is now home to many start-ups, but they do not manage to scale up or they move out of Europe to grow. Innovation, a more developed and dynamic venture capital market and a true single market are key elements to ensure that European companies grow to become global market players - and stay in Europe.

Then defence. The future of Europe will revolve around digitisation and cybersecurity even more when looking at it from the defence angle. Cyber defence is one of the areas in which the need to step up cooperation is strongest: defence and security is what Europeans ask and expect from their leaders.

Security has become the number one concern for citizens. Eurobarometer polls show that three quarters of the respondents expressed themselves in favour of more Europe in security and defence. And the leaders have committed to it.

Europe is now moving faster than ever in increased security and defence cooperation. A Defence Union is not yet here, but we have just witnessed the birth of a Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco) amongst 25 EU member states. In other words, almost the whole European Union will carry out joint projects, including on cybersecurity.

For now this is just a commitment to cooperation, but nothing prevents it from becoming a real common defence, if our heads of state and government so decide.

'Ethics by design'

In fact, common defence is not a binary choice of all or nothing. It can be framed progressively, starting from the areas where the added value of supranational cooperation is biggest. There is a clear case for this in digital and cybersecurity matters. Cooperation is the condition sine qua non to exercise sovereignty in a globalised world where digital threats are global and do not respect borders.

The efforts to create a seamless internal market for cybersecurity technologies, the work to strengthen European autonomy regarding cyber capabilities and the performance of joint operations to detect, react to and deter cyber threats are elements which, put together, could constitute the first nucleus of a future, comprehensive Common European defence.

This is a vision of solidarity, of trust and of opportunities. A shared vision that could become reality.

Against this picture, ethics needs to be considered as well. We are now developing technology more quickly and radically than ever previously in human history. This is a development which can also change humanity. "Ethics by design" should be the principle - whatever technology we are creating.

It is, for instance, a question of how to bring greater transparency to the ever increasing number of algorithms that affect our lives. Algorithms and technologies cannot be developed only outside Europe and based on different sets of values than European ones. Europe should show the way to the world also in these ethical and moral considerations.

Jyrki Katainen is European Commission vice-president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness. Jarno Limnell is professor of cybersecurity at Aalto University.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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