Priorities for the Spanish Presidency to the EU Council in the digital agenda

Spain has started its fifth Presidency to the EU Council on the 1st of July until December 2023. It has been launched in a highly particular context where Spain is facing upcoming national elections on July 23, and in turn it is one of the last Presidencies to the EU Council before the renewal of the European Commission’s mandate and the European Parliament’s elections in 2024. The main goal of Spain will be two-fold: wrap up relevant legislative files, and establish a common approach on topical issues

Main four priorities have been established for this semester. While all of them refer to a large array of topics, digitalization and technology policy is present across the four pillars:

Reindustrialize the European Union and ensure its open strategic autonomy

Spain’s agenda acknowledge that the international openness has been mostly beneficial and the current economic development would have been unachievable under protectionism. However, it has also facilitated the offshoring of industries in strategic sectors, the creation of excessive dependence on third countries, and the increase of foreign vulnerabilities.

This is why one of the goals will be to promote those dossiers which promote the development of strategic technologies in Europe, the strengthening of supply chains with like-minded countries, and the attainment of the recently announced Economic Security Strategy, two out of its four pillars delves into critical technologies, cybersecurity and critical infrastructures.

Advance in the green transition and the environmental adaptation

While this second pillar has put its focus on the green transition, digitalization appears as an enabling factor. References to raw materials, green technologies, and the need to include a greater participation of digital-oriented funding in the announced upcoming Sovereignty Fund should be aligned with the green transition.

Promoting greater social and economic justice

The Spanish Presidency to the EU Council acknowledges that GDP can no longer be the single metric to rely on. Further indicators should be promoted to understand social and economic development, such as the efficient monitoring of lifelong upskilling and reskilling on digitalization for the labor market, both specialized and non-specialized.

Strengthening European unity

While no references are explicitly made, a greater coherence and cohesion across EU Member States’ initiatives on industrial policy and its international technology positioning should be promoted. Particularly, some mechanisms such as export control regimes should be efficiently agreed upon. While the criteria are defined at the EU level across Member States, the main challenge lies in its implementation and interpretation, which depends on each Member State at the national level. Just to give an example, the Netherlands has decided to join the export controls regime of semiconductors towards China, jointly with Japan and the United States.

While some topics are competence of Member States according to law, the main goal of the upcoming EU Chips Act -including the Joint Undertaking Act- is to ensure that there are no geographical misbalances across Member States.

Alongside this dimension of industrial policy, the Spanish Presidency to the EU Council has two other areas. In legislative terms, the main topics will be the Artificial Intelligence Act, eIDAS (digital identity), the Cyber Resilience Act, the Cyber Solidarity Act, further debates on the EU Commission’s proposal for a Connectivity Package which includes the so-called “fair share” or “telco tax”.

In foreign policy terms, the Spanish Presidency to the EU Council has centered the relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean as a cornerstone for this semester, concretely by revitalizing the EU-CELAC Summit in July, fostering specific projects and initiatives in the Digital Alliance with the continent, and by fostering Spain’s approach to digital rights and the need for a global technology governance setting, as it has already carried out in the past, with the promotion of the OECD Global Forum on Technology by Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, or by hosting the first AI National Supervision Agency across all EU Member States.

In conclusion, Spain faces an intense semester in charge of the wrapping up of a large number of initiatives. Even though it is a Presidency that is almost at the end of the European Commission’s mandate, still it will be likely to propose new topics in the digital realm, mostly in the foreign policy perspective.

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