Event Highlights

EVENT HIGHLIGHTS | Open source and an open world: What are the EU prospects on global multilateral governance after the coronavirus pandemic?

In mid October, PubAffairs Bruxelles organised an evening of discussion on the EU and global prospects regarding multilateral governance after the coronavirus pandemic with our distinguished speakers Ms Maria-Soraya Rodriguez-Ramos MEP, Chair of the Delegation for relations with the Pan-African Parliament and AFET Committee Member, Professor Andrea Renda, Head of Global Governance, Regulation, Innovation and the Digital Economy (GRID), CEPS, Mr Andy Purdy, Chief Security Officer, Huawei USA and Mr Henry Llewellyn, Ad interim Chair, Brussels New Generation of young leaders (BNG).

Mr Fabio Massimo Castaldo MEP, Vice-President of the European Parliament held the introductory remarks via a video message.

The event was hosted by Jennifer Baker, senior journalist on tech policy and digital rights.

Vice-President Fabio Massimo Castaldo started his introductory speech by offering an overview of the evolution of the geopolitical landscape that occurred in recent years. More specifically, the speaker explained that the constant growth of social, political and economic uncertainties has triggered a new age of populism and nationalism worldwide. As a result, the opportunities of a fruitful global dialogue have been eroded, making international relations rebound to a state of conflict among deeply polarised geopolitical factions. Vice-President Castaldo proceeded to explain some of the reasons that led to the current situation. The rising nationalism in many countries has contributed to the creation of political uncertainty, as well as to a tendency towards protectionism.

Furthermore, major powers, such as China, the US and Russia, have increasingly opted for unilateral decisions, which have had a tangible impact on global trade and mutual trust between them, despite the fact that the crisis has also constituted an opportunity for global leaders to rediscover the value of cooperation. Indeed, the Vice-President remarked that several countries across the globe have decided to act unilaterally against the pandemic by shutting borders, disrupting or blocking the supply chain and cutting funds to international organisations. The speaker subsequently remarked that the EU, as well, initially experienced a similar situation, as the early uncoordinated response raised doubts about the bloc’s capacity to react to unforeseeable crises.

However, the ability of the EU to agree on a Recovery Plan in a relatively short time has demonstrated the value of a united European approach. Vice-President Castaldo then pointed out that multilateralism is generally viewed as weak and serving the aim of maintaining the status quo. Nevertheless, he also underscored that the current challenges are daunting, but they also offer an unprecedented opportunity to reforge multilateralism and to pave the way towards a world order based on international law and universal norms.

The speaker also referred to President Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech in which she called for a stronger European Health Union. Rethinking health competences, notably exclusive competence of EU Member States, the speaker concluded, is an example of the possible reforms which can enhance the quality of life of citizens, as well as the capacity of the European Union to be more effective in its collective responses.

Jennifer Baker presented the panel and asked Professor Andrea Renda for his opinion regarding the current state of multilateralism and what kind of opportunities the crisis can offer to the EU.

Professor Andrea Renda began by pointing out the importance of differentiating between the problems that have arisen as a result of the crisis and already existing ones. He explained how Covid 19 has exacerbated and uncovered several weaknesses in both several countries and the international governance. In addition, Professor Renda clarified that, before the pandemic, many of the questions that emerged with the financial crisis have not been fully solved, while several countries across the globe are still unable to converge on a clear set of actions towards climate action.

One of the main goals of multilateral cooperation, the speaker explained, is also to ensure and protect global public goods. However, the inability of major actors to agree on common strategies has further exposed the crisis that multilateralism is undergoing. Within this context, Mr Renda highlighted the necessity of distinguishing between the short and medium-term effects of the pandemic and the pre-existing problems in order to find solutions that adequately address the underlying challenges. The speaker continued his remarks by stating that the current global inability to solve common problems is fostering not only inaction regarding climate change, but also social unsustainability.

In fact, the increased polarisations of politics, inequalities and the deterioration of social cohesion have exposed the flaws inherent in prevalent economic paradigms. In addition, Mr Renda highlighted that other economic models have also shown their weaknesses as well, making it difficult to understand the way to follow in order to deal with the current global challenges. To clarify his statements, the speaker stated that, on the one hand, the US pushed towards unilateral stances and showed the fragility of its socio-economic model, especially in terms of incomes for both the middle and the working class, while, on the other hand, China has tried to take advantage of the turmoil offered by the pandemic in terms of both consolidation of internal mass-surveillance and geopolitical advantage, such as with the so-called “mask diplomacy”.

Referring to what Mr Castaldo had previously stated, Professor Renda, pointed out that the EU needs to prove its ability to act with one voice in order to be an example for the international community. To conclude his first set of statements, Mr Renda expressed his optimism regarding the attempt of EU institutions to become the leading polity of the EU action. Nevertheless, he also showed some disappointment with regard to the lack of resolution from the EU to effectively move towards an effective fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The moderator subsequently asked Mr Andy Purdy if he agreed with regard to the fact that multilateralism was already faltering before the pandemic.

Mr Andy Purdy began by stating that we are currently witnessing clear examples of geopolitics of power coming to the surface. However, he specified that multilateralism is nowadays even more essential, as this unprecedented crisis requires a clear understanding of what must be done and what can be accomplished through global cooperation. Furthermore, he added, multilateral discussions have always brought benefit to those willing to collaborate and this historical period shows that it is exactly in times of crisis that multilateral cooperation proves its real worth. The Corona crisis, he continued, has certainly contributed to consider whether the EU should have more power in the healthcare sector.

However, the speaker specified that the inadequate response to the virus everywhere around the world has revealed the weaknesses of a multilateral way of solving global crises, as well as a weak capacity of coordination at global level in general. In order to overcome this situation, Mr Purdy explained that global actors and worldwide stakeholders alike need to collaborate, for example, thought the implementation of public and private partnerships in order to establish evidence-based and collaborative policies, while taking into account past mistakes and international system failures.

The speaker subsequently highlighted as an example the interrelations between the question of multilateralism and that of cybersecurity. He explained that the norms that regulate the cyber space have been developed over more than 20 years. However, many countries are now taking considerable steps towards the full regulation of the digital space. Mr Purdy also mentioned the new Global Initiative on Data Security proposed by China and underscored that the global community must move towards common rules on cybersecurity, not only to improve digital safety, but to identify those who do not abide by the rules as well.

To achieve this aim, the speaker pointed out that independent institutions could carry out the task of improving security. With special regard to the creation of common rules, the speaker reaffirmed the iimportance of multilateralism, as the participation of several actors would allow for better collaboration, sharing of best practices and the creation of common criteria. Finally, Mr Purdy stated that stopping malicious activities in the cyber space should be one of the highest points in the global digital agenda, together with fighting those who are covering up these activities.

In a video message a member of the Brussels New Generation of young leaders (BNG), Julian Jacobitz, shared his reflection from BNG members of their expectations towards multilateral governance as members of BNG become the policy leaders of tomorrow.

For example, progression of globalization, technological progress, and actions addressing climate change used to be governed at global level. The direction of progress or even the need for progress is being questioned both by activist groups and by global leaders. Although the overall long-term goals to address climate change have been agreed in the Paris Agreement there has been limited consensus amongst superpowers including the US. The speaker also questioned the long-term goals for digital transformation and suggested that digital now threatens first order values of democracy, trust, science, and the rule of law.

Mr Jacobitz explained that Brussels is a very special place to discuss some of these questions and many of the young professionals who flock here have at least the expectation of somehow benefiting from globalisation and multilateral institutions. He challenged the expectation that multilateral institutions are inherited from one generation to the next for those with an international education and desire international careers instead of driving more inclusive discussion. The speaker questioned how multilateral governance can be effectively communicated without excluding the disenchanted that drives the backlash against multilateral governance and multilateral institutions as we have seen in the last few years.

The moderator then asked to what extent the Corona crisis has put in the spotlight the necessity for better cooperation and governance within a multilateral framework.

Ms Maria Soraya Rodriguez-Ramos began her remarks by reiterating the importance of multilateralism in the current international context. Indeed, she started her speech by reiterating that the Corona crisis has clearly shown that unilateral responses are simply not effective in the face of global challenges. The MEP also specified how the pandemic has had a heavy toll in terms of human lives and made clear the necessity for a better global governance and international solidarity.

However, Ms Rodriguez-Ramos also pointed out that multilateralism is not a goal in and of itself, but a means to reach tangible and common results, such as protecting global citizens and global public goods. In this regard, the MEP mentioned how the uncontrolled human activity and lack of environmental protection have also been a cause of the current situation. In this connection, she elaborated on the biodiversity loss and the changes in the global ecosystem, as well as on how these factors have played a major role in the spread of pandemics. For this reason, she affirmed that protecting biodiversity is also a sort of vaccine for future generations. She subsequently stated that initiatives such as the new Biodiversity Strategy and the European Climate Law will play a fundamental role in reversing the damages of the development model followed so far.

As a result, Ms Rodriguez-Ramos specified that multilateralism is a fundamental component in the achievement of the green transition, as the action of a relatively small “coalition of the willing” will not be enough. Instead, she stated, it would be necessary to establish a more effective international strategy that would reduce the negative impacts on the Earth, while allowing developing countries to participate without being further penalised.

Mr Henry Llewellyn replied by expressing his concerns for the foreseeable future. Indeed, he stated that several observers consider this period as a turning point in History. However, he also clarified that the challenges that we are currently facing already existed and that the effects the Corona crisis has exposed and exacerbated will manifest themselves fully in the time to come.

Among the several questions he pointed out, Mr Llewellyn highlighted the dangers of a generational conflict by affirming that previous generations left a precarious state of affairs with regard to many key issues, such as the environmental question, social protection and welfare systems, as well as the imbalances of the global economy as a whole. Mr Llewellyn concluded his remarks by adding that the future effects of the pandemic are likely to further threaten economic and social stability both in developing and developed countries, while reaffirming that this scenario would worsen the generational conflict already in place.

Jennifer Baker asked the participants to provide a reflection on the possible role of international organisations, such as the UN or the G20, in the rebuilding efforts after the pandemic.

Professor Renda answered the moderator’s question by stating that the current state of play of international relations is, for the moment, hindered by the contrast between the US and China. In fact, the rivalry between the two superpowers in several fields, from the fight against the pandemic to the cyberspace, has prevented attempts to reach a global cooperation on multiple important questions. This dynamic, he specified, is evident not only in the UN, but it has also tainted the G20 by making it nearly impossible to agree on fundamental questions, such as the standards for a responsible use of artificial intelligence.

The speaker subsequently highlighted the threats this dynamic poses for multilateralism, as major powers are trying to create smaller cohorts of like-minded countries, thus creating opposed factions and making cooperation particularly difficult. To exemplify this behaviour, Proessor Renda shared his experience in participating in conferences on global cooperation-related questions. On the one hand, he stated, it is possible to observe how the current US administration has tried to exclude other important players such as China and Russia, whereas, on the other hand, the latter are trying to expand their influence and marginalise the US whenever they can.

In this connection, Professor Renda quoted the paradigm “Protect, Prepare and Transform”, conceived by the EU as valuable slogan towards the path for a global sustainable recovery from the pandemic. However, he added that the current state of play of international relations makes it extremely difficult to follow such a direction, given the climate of uncertainty and the increasingly protectionist and nationalist tendencies emerging across the globe.

Mr Llewellyn replied to this question by remarking on the fact that the United Nations system has lost a large degree of public trust as a multilateral institution way before the pandemic outbreak. He continued by stating that the best way to spread norms and values through national, supranational and international institutions would be to endeavour towards the achievement of full transparency of their respective decision-making processes and operations.

To exemplify this statement, the speaker highlighted the role and practices of EU’s DG COMP as one of the most influential institutions in the world concerning competition-related matters. The reason for the relevance of this part of the European institutions lies in the fact that the EU publishes its decisions in extensive detail, he explained, particularly when it comes to matters of controversy. Given the example offered by European institutions, Mr Llewellyn stated that transparency has to be put at the forefront of global action in order to succeed in going forward with an effective multilateral model of governance.

Ms Rodriguez-Ramos MEP commented on the host’s question by highlighting that the ultimate goal of multilateralism should be the defence and promotion of human rights. Fighting climate change and protecting the environment are, according to the MEP, priorities of utmost importance that the EU, along with the other industrialised countries, should focus on. The MEP added that if one takes into consideration the latest polls of the “Eurobarometer”, this opinion is shared by a large part of EU citizens as well. Entering more into detail on the question of Sustainable Development Goals, the speaker recalled that there are still basic needs such as hunger and lack of drinking water that could be avoided and that would play a major role in giving more opportunities of growth to developing countries.

For this reason, the MEP urged international institutions not to forget the ultimate goal of multilateralism and to find an agreement on tackling these challenges, notwithstanding the rivalries that usually characterise international organisations. On the same note, she provided the example of the European Parliament, which recently approved the EU Climate Law, in her opinion a promising proof that the EU institutions have started to act according to the scientific evidence in order to ensure a sustainable future for all generations.

Mr Purdy began his reply by stressing the need, on a global scale, to set and reinforce a series of standards for cybersecurity as a primary concern for the well-being of global citizens and as an example of how global cooperation could work more effectively. Referring to Mr Timo Koster, former Dutch Ambassador at large for Security Policy and Cyber, the speaker stated that, at times, it is not relevant if the role of “guardian” is entrusted into a coalition of independent countries or an ad-hoc organisation, as long as the task is fulfilled. Mr Purdy also said that, in the domain of cybersecurity in particular, it would always be difficult to reach a multilateral agreement, as the rivalry between powers will likely prevent finding a solution that is commonly accepted by all parties.

Therefore, the creation of an independent organisation that could act as intermediary could also be a model to follow, provided that it would be entrusted with the necessary power to enforce the legislation and effectively protect the cyber space. The speaker continued by highlighting the necessity for international institutions to collaborate with the private sector to obtain the highest expertise and to be able to establish the best standards possible. Concluding his speech, Mr Purdy brought attention to the fact that, with the development of 5G, global citizens will become even more dependent on technology and, as a result, setting the standards for security and transparency is key to ensuring the digital transformation.

The moderator asked the panel how it could be possible to foster the green transition in developing countries and what kind of incentives they would need. She also asked what changes will occur, if any, in aid practices after the pandemic.

Professor Renda replied by explaining that it will be difficult to provide incentives for the transition to developing countries because of the difficult nature of the transition itself and because it is easier to commit to sustainability in times of prosperity than in times of crisis. Continuing his remarks, the speaker reiterated the necessity of achieving not only environmental, but social sustainability as well. In order to achieve these goals, countries and blocs across the world need to revise their whole economic model and strengthen the institutions and accountability.

Furthermore, it would be essential to set up a coherent global strategy that would make it possible to reach the medium-term environmental goals without necessarily compromising the growth goals. In this connection, Professor Renda regretted that international standards are still using the “GDP criteria” as the “North Star” of the progress of the economy, and not the SDGs. In addition, he stated that the European policies and their implementation in EU Member States often lack coherence regarding the green transition, an area in which the EU is willing to lead. On the same note, Professor Renda stated that the EU should first coordinate its own policies before projecting its example onto other countries.

Moreover, the EU would not be able to rely, in the short term, on transatlantic cooperation for climate change. As a result, it would be vital to establish a trusted relationship with China to achieve an alignment on climate goals and to focus on emerging economies, such as Africa and South America, in order to extend the “collation of the willing” as much as possible. With regard to aid, Mr Renda said that, despite the exemplary efforts of the EU, disruptions of the global value chain bring unavoidable consequences in developing countries, potentially further excluding them from virtuous practices.

According to the International Monetary Fund, he stated, the crisis pushed back several countries to the level of the 90s and reduced the accomplishments reached over the years. The speaker also stressed how this challenge cannot be undertaken by a superpower alone and helping developing countries will require a deep multilateral cooperation. Mr Renda subsequently remarked that providing unilateral aid to poor countries might fragment the global community even more. In fact, the Belt and Road, the Digital Silk Road initiatives and the aid offered from western powers, could become a means to extend influence rather than help. It is hence essential, the speaker concluded, that the geopolitical influence be exercised in ways that are not detrimental to developing countries.

Given the high unpredictability of the assertiveness of both US and China, Mr Llewellyn said the current breakdown of multilateralism could force the EU to look for other allies in order to get more certainty in its external action. However, he added, this could become an opportunity for the EU not only to break the current balance, but also to develop effective international norms. To achieve this aim, he continued, it would be necessary to promote transparency on a global scale, as it will help create an environment of trust and mutual understanding. Mr Llewellyn, however, expressed some further concerns regarding global cooperation.

According to the speaker, the green and digital transitions will test countries’ capacity to promote a fair growth model. In fact, while both questions will bring benefits, they also pose considerable challenges. Indeed, on the one hand, they will bring innovation that will foster economic growth and the quality of life, while, on the other hand, both transitions will require time and the fostering of new skills and will create, in the short term, social insecurity both in rich and developing countries.

Mr Purdy highlighted the opinion that the best incentive that could be provided to emerging economies is connectivity. In fact, according to the speaker, connectivity will be fundamental for both developed and developing countries when providing the latter with more opportunities to strengthen their economy and actively participate to global trade. Furthermore, the development of 5G-related technologies would also provide better instruments to fight climate change, as they allow great reduction of the carbon footprint and valuable improvements of the manufacturing process.

Continuing on the same topic, the speaker stressed the importance of global partnerships and stated that it would be useful for the international community to assist in the creation of “incubation centres” where companies can agree on how to deal with the operations in the whole supply chain. Lastly, Mr Purdy called on the international community to collaborate with the private sector at large to find an agreement on how to provide connectivity to the 3 billion people that are still excluded from the digital world.

In the conclusive part of the debate, Ms Baker asked the speakers to provide some final considerations regarding the impact that the US elections will have in the foreseeable future.

Ms Maria Soraya Rodriguez-Ramos expressed some conclusive thoughts in this regard by stating that, despite the latest developments, multilateralism and global dialogue will become ever more fundamental in the time to come. Indeed, multilateralism has been threatened by unilateral actions, such the US decision to stop financing the WHO. However, despite the increasing hostility towards global dialogue, countries across the world cannot afford to be excluded from the international decision-making process, especially when considering the scale of the challenges, such as climate change or establishing international standards for cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Finally, the MEP stressed the fact that the EU should not fill the gap between US and China, but instead should facilitate the debate between the two parties by assuming the role of honest broker.

Mr Purdy stated that, after the elections, there would probably be a greater predictability in the US behaviour, depending on the winner. However, the speaker also expressed some concerns on the toxic political environment that permeates the country. In fact, he said, this state may endure regardless of the candidate who will be elected. Mr Purdy also called for a better evidence-based decision-making process that may be able to foster dialogue and make decision-making more effective. On a different note, the speaker highlighted the capability of the EU to be a global leader. This has been proven, in his opinion, by the European Union’s ability to reform its industrial strategy and to embark on a transition towards climate neutrality, as well as the new aim to ensure a “Europe fit for the digital age”. To conclude, Mr Purdy stressed again the importance of setting priorities and standards for cybersecurity and data protection. In this connection, he praised the GDPR and the example it has set for the global community.

Mr Llewellyn replied to the host’s question by stating that, as in the case of Brexit, predictions may often be difficult, also because the US electoral system is a complex mechanism. Mr Llewellyn then proceeded to engage on the same topic by saying that the US institutional and political system is structured in a way that allows older generations to impose their priorities on the demographically predominant younger generations. This factor, he remarked, risks further exacerbating the generational conflict in the US and, potentially, across the world. As a conclusion, the speaker referred to the possibility for Europe to become the bridge between the East and the West. However, he also pointed out that Europe should not abandon its openness and transparency-friendly approach if Europe wishes to lead in the world.

Professor Renda stated that the fragmentation of the American society constitutes the evidence of a country on the verge of social collapse. In this connection, he stressed the fact that, regardless of the winner, the US will remain a very divided society. This fact, Professor Renda said, will create challenges not only internally, but globally. Finally, Professor Renda remarked that it will be difficult for the EU to fill the gap between the US and China and concluded by stating that the EU should find new alliances with other important and like-minded actors, such as Australia or South Korea, in order to try to redirect the current trajectory of multilateral governance.

The Q&A session covered the following issues: How the UN can recover from the loss of reciprocal trust that happened during the crisis; the question of the creation of a new international polity to develop common global policies; which reforms the UN should undergo in order to make the institutions fit for the future; how Brexit will impact Europe’s influence on the UN Security Council; what will the impact of the US election be on the UN; the commonalities and differences between China’s New Infrastructure initiative and the Next Generation EU; the role of African countries in the recovery.

Want to know more about the issues discussed in this debate? Then take a look at the selected sources provided below!

State of the Union Address by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary, European Commission

Next Generation EU – Recovery plan for Europe, European Commission

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), United Nations

Shaping the Future of Global Public Goods, World Economic Forums

Connecting for Inclusion: Broadband Access for All, World Bank

Rules-based Global Governance at Risk: Challenges of US Unilateralism and US-China Superpower Competition, G20

The purpose of multilateralism
A framework for democracies in a geopolitically competitive world, Brookings

Strengthening Global Governance & Multilateralism, Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA)

A crisis like no other, International Monetary Fund (IMF) 2020 Report

COVID-19: 3 myths and 5 solutions for the future of multilateralism, World Econiomic Forum

Now is the time for a ‘great reset’ of capitalism, World Economic Forum

Is Coronavirus Widening Generational Divides, or Bridging Them? New York Times

Coronavirus crisis will be paid for by Europe’s next generation, Deutsche Welle

COVID-19 as a global challenge: towards an inclusive and sustainable future, The Lancet

European Climate Law, European Commission

EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, European Commission

Protect, prepare and transform Europe: Recovery and resilience post COVID-19, European Commission

European Health Union, Protecting the health of Europeans and collectively responding to cross-border health crises, European Commission

A Europe fit for the digital age, European Commission

Cybersecurity, emerging technology and systemic risk, World Economic Forum

China Launches Initiative to Set Global Data-Security Rules, Reuters

Global Initiative on Data Security, China Government proposals

Will China Control the Global Internet Via its Digital Silk Road?, Carnegie

Unpacking China’s Digital Silk Road, Cligendael Institute

China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative, Council on Foreign Relations

Public-private partnerships, Sustainable Development Goals Fund

European Industrial Strategy, European Commission

EVENT HIGHLIGHTS | The EU-China dialogue on cybersecurity and global tech governance: What perspectives ahead?

In September, PubAffairs Bruxelles organised an evening of discussion regarding the EU-China dialogue on cybersecurity and the question of global tech governance with our distinguished guests Ms Maria Spyraki MEP, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the People’s Republic of China, Dr Jean-Marc Rickli, Head of Global Risk and Resilience, Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) and Professor Bart Preneel, Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography Research Group (COSIC), KU Leuven.

Mr Abraham Liu, Chief Representative to the EU Institutions and Vice-President for the European Region, Huawei, gave the keynote speech.

The debate was moderated by Giulia Pastorella, Associate Director, Tech and Trade, Weber Shandwick.

Giulia Pastorella opened the discussion by drawing attention to the question of how tech governance can be facilitated on a global level amidst rising tensions between the United States (US) and China. She pointed to the challenges for the European Union to position itself on the global stage with regard to the question that is often described as the beginning of a Tech Cold War”.

The moderator continued by introducing the panel and finalised her opening statements by giving the floor to Mr Abraham Liu.

Mr Abraham Liu initiated his keynote speech by stating that Huawei is employing 14,000 people across Europe and contributed around 16 billion euros to the GDP of the EU in 2019, while paying 1.6 billion euros in direct taxes. The speaker continued by mentioning that Huawei is planning major investments in Europe by building new production facilities, instead of acquiring European start-ups, while emphasising the high number of jobs which these investments are creating. Mr Liu subsequently stated that the 20 years of Huawei’s presence in Europe implies that the company is perceived as an established and trustworthy player across the old continent.

The speaker continued by expressing his concern about the challenges his company is facing due to the current disruptions in relations between China and the US. He elaborated on this matter by asserting that this dynamic, in his opinion, will have a negative impact on investments in the EU. The keynote speaker also expressed doubts over the idea that the tensions between the US and China will have positive effects for European companies, as well as for the EU strategic autonomy objectives. “Reducing competition is never a good idea”, he stated and urged for a Europe-wide engagement in preventing disruption to global supply chains as a result of current tensions. Mr. Liu subsequently stated that only a multi-vendor approach to technology, as opposed to protectionism, could guarantee security and digital sovereignty at the same time.

Going more into detail about Huawei’s cooperation with European governments, the speaker explained that there have been major efforts to verify Huawei’s equipment, creating deeper trust in its products and making the company the most tested company on the global tech market. He also stated that, in his opinion, the accusations against Huawei are part of a strategy for global tech dominance that is intended to damage Europe, as well. Mr Liu subsequently called European institutions to follow an approach based on Europe’s own rules and values.

Following these remarks, the speaker discussed the company’s position as a leader in the development of security standards. He asserted that the issue of security should not be exploited for internal political disputes and elaborated on how current tensions are interfering with the rollout of 5G technologies in Europe. He subsequently emphasised that Europe should have access to the most advanced 5G technology in order to increase its competitiveness, also given the necessity of a rapid global recovery from the Corona crisis.

In addition, Mr Liu explained that European consumers are also being harmed with regard to their rights and choices by the latest measures taken by the US and presented the opinion that digital sovereignty can only result from the freedom of choice granted by market competition. He continued by highlighting the importance of multinational trade frameworks and shared his preference for the setting of common global rules and standards based on open market access and fair competition. The speaker consequently referred to an initiative presented by the Chinese government which provides a framework for data security global standards with the aim of engaging other countries to follow a multilateral approach to this issue, while respecting their sovereignty and the right to manage their own data.

Mr Liu further emphasised the interdependent relationship between the EU and China in economic terms and drew attention to China’s growing role in the global value chain. He also expressed understanding for the EU’s orientation towards strategic autonomy, while emphasising that caution is advisable when drawing the line between strategic autonomy and protectionism. The speaker also shared his optimism on the fact that despite the pressure coming from the US, the conclusion of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment will strengthen multilateralism in international relations. He subsequently asserted that an agreement will give the industries of both negotiation parties new certainty and will show the important role globalisation continues to play in terms of economic growth.

The speaker reiterated that Huawei is a trusted commercial partner around the globe, while highlighting that trust must also be built at a government level in order to overcome trade disputes, foster technological collaboration and eventually avoid negative impacts for citizens. Mr Liu then moved on to listing additional challenges which Europe faces, namely the recovery from the Corona crisis and its role in technological innovation. He concluded his keynote remarks by confirming his company support for Europe’s efforts to accomplish its digital ambitions and shape the global economic recovery.

Giulia Pastorella opened the discussion by asking the panellists about the main challenges they anticipate in the developments of global tech governance.

Maria Spyraki MEP began her response by calling into question whether current global diplomatic trends are actually moving towards effective global tech governance, hinting at some possible developments that could be described as the “Balkanisation” of technology. She consequently warned of the dangers of fragmented European and international policy approaches and called for a consensus enabled by constructive global dialogue aimed at a pragmatic strategic cooperation. The MEP explained that the more citizens use digital technologies, the more added value is created from investments in these technologies, and also warned against a fragmentation of global investment policies. She subsequently elaborated on the importance of reciprocity in investments between Europe and China, as this factor plays a major role when it comes to public procurement for digital technologies, while emphasising how crucial a balanced market access for both parties is. The MEP finally drew attention to the topic of discrimination in market access and finalised her remarks by pointing to the question of the elimination of discriminatory rules as an important step towards a fair trade and investment balance between China and the EU, a state of play that would be highly beneficial to both parties. 

Dr Jean-Marc Rickli answered the moderator’s question by referring to the broader context of tech governance, which is defined by the changes in current international relations. With the rise of China, the speaker continued, the structure of the international system after the Cold War has evolved, while technology has emerged as a significant source of influence. He subsequently added that this creates a continuously growing competition over the definition of the rules for governance of technologies on a global scale. Moreover, Dr Rickli highlighted the two opposing positions of governance in cyberspace, namely the perspective that derives from a free market point of view and the perspective of sovereignty as a primary national interest. With reference to a study published by Harvard University, he stated that the US and Europe were originally dominant in the field of cyberspace, whereas China is gaining more influence. The speaker subsequently shared his insights into Europe’s position towards China in the 2010s. During this period, he clarified, the EU was divided into non-cooperative and cooperative Member States, the latter being particularly driven by their respective evaluation over the opportunities provided by the Belt-and-Road initiative. Dr Rickli continued by referring to a change in this dynamic as a result of the Corona crisis, when some European countries shifted towards a more critical stance towards China. The speaker substantiated this consideration with examples of recent diplomatic incidents between China and the EU, which he viewed as being in line with the trends of the current international system. Indeed, he explained, the US has taken a more isolationist and nationalistic stance, while China has adopted a more active global role at the same time. This has induced an open confrontation between Washington and Beijing. He then emphasised that the European model, defined as aiming at defining standard setting according to consensual rules and norms, lacks the industrial capacity necessary to have a peer-to-peer approach with both the American and Chinese counterparts. As a result, the panellist urged Europe to reflect on its own capacities, which must move beyond the setting of rules and facilitate the development of competitive technologies in Europe. He concluded his response by emphasising the importance of an effective global governance of emerging technologies, as current dynamics are emphasising more the respective actors’ competitive, rather than collaborative, approach.

Professor Bart Preneel began his response by drawing attention to cybersecurity as a multidimensional problem, rooted in the fact that technology is the main infrastructure of modern society. This consideration, the speaker continued, creates the necessity for an integrated strategic approach, as no nation state can cope with cybersecurity threats autonomously. He therefore called for international cooperation on the matter. Professor Preneel also described the most challenging aspects of cooperation on cybersecurity, such as the need for nations to protect their sensitive information in the context of intelligence work and, from a long-term perspective, their own cyber warfare capacities. This dynamic, the speaker explained, has also led to a lack of exchange of sensitive data, an “inherent weakness” of the EU’s cyber capacity. In addition, Professor Preneel expressed doubts as to the effectiveness of a fragmented approach to cybersecurity in dealing with cyber challenges on the global stage. The speaker continued by highlighting that digital technology touches every area of society and should be treated with a holistic approach. In his opinion, the separation of military and intelligence issues from consumer and infrastructure aspects of cybersecurity causes a conceptual fragmentation. Subsequently, he elaborated on the term ‘digital sovereignty’, which he described as being driven by a combination of political and economic interests. However, he also warned against a lack of necessary investment in key industries and an effective industrial policy. In addition, Professor Preneel drew attention to a phenomenon that is observed following cybersecurity incidents in Europe and around the globe when a given nation state takes the lead in responding to a threat, but a common response is missing. Following these explanations, the panellist focused on the question of how values are embedded in technologies. He explained that, compared to the US and China, the EU should take the chance to integrate its values into emerging technologies, particularly regarding the governance of citizen’s data such as on social media platforms. The cybersecurity specialist concluded his remarks by reiterating the importance of both a cyberspace free from warfare and the need to govern the digital world, while calling for balanced, global cooperation on these matters.

The moderator asked the panellists to give an overview of the relationship and the current dynamics between the EU and China with respect to cyber governance and security issues.

Ms Spyraki MEP replied to the question of the moderator by stating that one of the determining factors shaping the relationship between the EU and China is also the confrontation between China and the US. The MEP subsequently clarified her statement by describing the current implications for cybersecurity and the technology sector as spill-over effects from trade tensions between the US and China. She further exemplified her point of view by referring to the recent decision of the US Department of Commerce to prohibit companies from selling semiconductors produced with US software to Chinese companies without acquiring a respective licence beforehand. The speaker added that this is an example where a government restricted a company of another country to protect its own technological sovereignty. Ms Spyraki then began explaining the cybersecurity state of play in the EU. With the implementation of the Cybersecurity Act in April 2019, she continued, EU Member States adopted EU-wide Cyber Security Certification Schemes to guarantee that products and services met common cybersecurity standards. This clearly shows the broad consensus on the matter between Member States, the MEP stated. She then mentioned how the Corona crisis creates difficulties with regard to the matter of European strategic autonomy, as the Covid outbreak has highlighted not only the need for self-sufficiency in medical supplies, but also in the domain of digital sovereignty. The speaker finally expressed that she perceives the crisis also as a chance for a fresh start in the relationship with China and called for an enhanced dialogue between the EU and China on the question of cybersecurity. 

Dr Rickli began his reply by agreeing with Professor Preneel’s statement that emerging technologies serve also as an enabler of power in the domains of security and defence. He subsequently elaborated on this idea by referring to the Chinese concept called “Civil-Military-Fusion”, which he described as a program that integrates civilian and military efforts in key sectors to enhance the defence capacities of the country. Continuing with his remarks, the speaker explained how conflict escalation proceeds differently in the cyberspace rather than in the “physical world”. He illustrated this statement with a comparison to nuclear deterrence, notably based on the communication of one’s own missile capabilities to the respective counterpart. On the contrary, in the cyber domain, revealing its own capacities means disclosing vulnerabilities as well. He went on to explain that unveiling the state of the development of artificial intelligence, real or pretend, has also ended in an escalation of frictions for the governance dominance in the field of technology. However, Dr. Rickli warned against the rising potential risks resulting from the shift of the international system structure from multipolar to purely hegemonic. He continued by expressing concerns about possible military tensions stemming from the competition in the civil technological sector. Finally, the panellist reiterated that the differentiation between civil and military use of digital technologies is often difficult, while stating that the aim of being the dominant actor on a global scale is also pursued by the delegitimisation of the counterpart.

Giulia Pastorella followed up on these statements by asking Ms Spyraki MEP if there are more obstacles or opportunities for a dialogue between China and the EU, given the fact that the EU itself has recognised China as a “systemic rival”.

Ms Spyraki MEP started by reiterating her stance on the necessity of reciprocity-based relations between the EU and China. She subsequently highlighted the importance of mutual market access for investments and urged all concerned parties to focus more on common approaches, rather than emphasising differences. However, the MEP expressed satisfaction over China’s efforts to improve its data protection regulations and remarked that these efforts can contribute to creating trust between the two actors. She furthermore shared her opinion that both sides need to realise how crucial cooperation is in order to create mutual benefits. The speaker then described how different China and the EU are regarding governance and regulation of cyberspace. To overcome these differences, Ms. Spyraki urged both sides to accept mutual market access as a common goal. She then expressed hope for the easing of tensions between the US and China after the US elections and for the possible positive effects of tension de-escalation in international relations can have on EU-China relations. The MEP concluded her remarks by calling on all concerned parties to focus on common interests, reciprocity and mutual access to the markets for investment.

The moderator asked the panellists how cybersecurity standards can be used as non-tariff trade barriers and how this strategy affects efforts of global tech governance and which role the EU should take on the global stage.

Professor Preneel began his statement by confirming that cryptography is an effective barrier to protect intellectual property rights and to prevent market access. He referred to the example of different network standards, which are encrypted as part of licensing processes for building telecommunication networks. The speaker followed up on this elaboration by stating that, a decade ago, he was invited by the US trade delegation to China to convince the Chinese government of abstaining from building its own crypto standards. In fact, he explained, the global crypto standard AES was of a substantial economic value to the US industry. He subsequently remarked that China had proceeded in developing its own standards for encryption for all wireless Internet connections, a fact which allows the securisation of the national networks and the prevention of access from outside. Professor Preneel expressed his disappointment as to this development and declared that he is in favour of open standards applied in most parts of the world. He then moved on to explain that the trend on the cybersecurity market is developing towards certification schemes, which are used to protect the market by implementing price barriers for certificates. The speaker consequently raised the concern that EU countries might use this mechanism to protect their own companies from open competition. Additionally, he mentioned that cybersecurity companies are closely monitored with regard to their compliance with cyber standards, resulting in unimpeded access to new products for the monitoring authorities. Professor Preneel subsequently expressed doubted as to the EU cybersecurity certification scheme being able to solve these problems and reiterated his stance on open systems as the only solution to the certification issue. Only this way can the control over cryptography and cybersecurity be limited, the speaker asserted, while remarking that Europe should advocate on a global level for the common use of open systems, as major parts of the Internet run on open software. He added that cloud infrastructure is facilitated by open hardware and urged European governments to oblige market-leading phone producers to unlock their products for open software use to ensure that European digital solutions can be introduced independently from companies. With regard to data governance, the panellist confirmed the exemplary role of the GDPR, but also expressed concerns as to its limited means of enforcement, especially against major foreign actors. He also drew attention to the discrepancy between globally flowing data streams and the aim of making them a subject of national jurisdictions. He furthermore suggested establishing a European cyber ecosystem rather than searching control over the data of citizens of individual Members States. Subsequently, Professor Preneel indicated a common understanding between the EU and China that cyberthreats are leaving society vulnerable and that it requires long-term investment to cope with these threats. He elaborated on this notion by describing how technological advancements in fields such as robotics and mobility are progressing at a fast pace, making major efforts in cybersecurity necessary to avoid problems for these sectors in the future. Indeed, these circumstances provide a ground for cooperation on higher security standards between the EU and China, the professor said. He consequently mentioned the cooperation between Huawei and the Government of the United Kingdom on Internet router security, while highlighting this example as a model of cooperation between China and Europe on open cyber infrastructures. However, the speaker unveiled that abuse of digital technology is, to some extent, unavoidable and proposed to hand the control over these technologies to artificial intelligence, while warning against the potential surveillance of European citizens. The aim of preventing abuse of emerging technologies, he explained, will create different security architectures of the internet, based on divergent governament approaches. Professor Preneel concluded by stating that the architecture of the Internet holds the potential for disagreement between China and the EU, as both apply different concepts of governing technology.

Ms Spyraki MEP took on the moderator’s question by suggesting that the EU should play the role of an “honest broker” in the international arena and pointed at the outcome of the upcoming Presidential elections in the US as the decisive factor for the future relations between the US and China. She subsequently highlighted the importance of market access to both the US and China for the EU and advocated for an improved dialogue to foster pragmatic strategic cooperation and suggested the market access of all three actors be enhanced instead of narrowed down. On the matter of security, she reiterated the importance of the Cybersecurity Act as a pan-European measure and asserted the need for cooperation on cybersecurity standards, the open Internet and common rules of tech governance. The speaker additionally emphasised the importance of data exchange around the world, whilst upholding the idea of data protection granted by the GDPR. The MEP explained that these measures can not be enforced by one actor over the others, but have to be implemented based on consensus. In fact, she described her previous elaboration as the only way to create a level-playing field in the cyberspace and for creating trust between stakeholders. She concluded her response by warning against the alternative of weaponising both the economy and technology developments. 

The Q&A session covered the following issues: The role of the EU in mediating the tensions between the US and China; the question of balance between market and security needs; the role of data sovereignty in the relation of the EU with the US and China; the implementation of the GDPR; the vulnerabilities of cloud services; the dispute over the 5G roll-out in Europe; areas of common interest and disagreement between China and the EU and the bifurcation of the IT stack.

Want to know more about the issues discussed in this debate? Then take a look at the selected sources provided below!

EU-China 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation, European External Action Service

EU strategy on China, European Commission

European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the People’s Republic of China

The EU Cybersecurity Act, European Commission

The European Digital Strategy, European Commission

Digital sovereignty for Europe, European Parliament Think Tank

Cybersecurity Incident Taxonomy, European Commission

Delegation of the European Union to China, European External Action Service

EU-China leaders’ meeting via video conference, 14 September 2020, European Council

EU Cyber Forum – Promoting a free, open, safe and secure cyberspace, European External Action Service

Cybersecurity – review of EU rules on the security of network and information systems, European Commission

National Cyber Power Index 2020, Harvard Kennedy School for Science and International Affairs

The Coming Tech Cold War With China
Beijing Is Already Countering Washington’s Policy, Foreign Affairs

Surrogate Warfare: The Transformation of War in the Twenty-First Century, Paperback by Andreas Krieg and Jean-Marc Rickli

How Restricting Trade with China Could End US Semiconductor Leadership, Boston Consulting Group

Balkanising technology will backfire on the US, Financial Times

The Impact of Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence on Strategic Stability, Geneva Centre for Security Policy

The Increasing Importance of Hybrid Politics in Europe: Cyber Power is Changing the Nature of Politics, Geneva Centre for Security Policy

EU-China FDI: Working towards more reciprocity in investment relations, Report, MERICS and Rhodium Group

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