A European rEUnion is the concept under which Malta’s EU presidency took off on January 1. The smallest EU country will now lead the EU during these turbulent times.
Digital is part of Malta’s uniqueness, something that could help Europe in crisis. Being an island, Malta embraced global technological developments as a way of overcoming geographical remoteness.
In addition, digital found fertile ground in Malta’s key resources: the ingenuity, resilience and perseverance of its people.
Many elements have come together and facilitated fast digital growth in Malta since the early days of ICTs and the internet.
The development of the national fibre optic infrastructure, initiatives to connect more schools, and the increase in Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the islands were some of the highlights of a developing vibrant digital society. Malta continues to embrace even more initiatives that take into account new trends and advances.
This unique digital growth makes Malta well-placed to help with a ‘digital rEUnion for Europe’. In particular, it can be done through the EU’s Digital Single Market strategy, initiated two years ago, with the aim of bringing down barriers between countries to form a single market where consumers have better choices and businesses have more opportunities to grow.
The elimination of roaming charges, the creation of new partnerships for cooperation on cybersecurity, reinforced protection for network neutrality principles and proposals for a modernised copyright framework and updated consumer protection rules are some of the policy areas that the EU has been working on.
Digital is part of Malta’s uniqueness, something that could help Europe in crisis
The harmonisation of rules across the EU brings countries closer to the benefits of the Digital Single Market – benefits for digital economies that EU countries have already been reaping. Further developments, such as the introduction of 5G and more applications for the Internet of Things, can provide additional benefits.
During the EU presidency, by making faster progress on the EU’s Digital Single Market strategy, Malta could help to make a strategic shift in the current trends in EU integration. A stronger digital economy can trigger more opportunities for jobs, increased research and development, healthier competition, increased consumer trust, and ultimately, more economic stability.
In addition to opportunities, the digital space will also pose risks. Cyber-attacks, the use of the internet by terrorists and cybercrime are increasing at a very fast rate. Growing security concerns made Nato declare cyberspace the fourth military domain in addition to land, water and air.
Countries worldwide are quickly developing cyber-military capabilities. For Europe, protection of the internet infrastructure will be high on the political agenda for 2017. This can take various forms, from the protection of cyber-military attacks to dealing with cybercrime and the use of the internet by terrorists.
Europe’s digital growth is deeply interlinked with the development of the internet. A ‘digital rEUnion for Europe’ could create dynamism beyond EU shores. For example, in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the digital realm is increasingly seen as the way to stop the wave of protectionism in global trade.
In 2017, the EU can play an active role in digital trade, which is one of its priorities in the preparation for the WTO ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires. Similarly, the G20, the UN and other organisations are looking to the digital sphere as a way to re-energise growth and international cooperation. A digital rEUnion can therefore take the notion of a European rEUnion forward, within the EU and beyond.
The digital sphere is a symbol of connectivity and integration. A successful presidency for Malta, followed by Estonia’s presidency in the second half of the year, could offer Europe the impetus it direly needs.
Jovan Kurbalija is the director of DiploFoundation.