The development of digital technologies, which have a transformative impact on our economy and society, such as Artificial Intelligence, has accelerated rapidly. The COVID pandemic highlighted the importance of safe and effective digital solutions for a more accessible, more equal and inclusive world. The international and security context, aggravated by Russia’s full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine, is becoming even more complex. New digital technologies are increasingly a driver of geopolitical competition and barometer of global influence, and are used by foreign actors to threaten the security and integrity of the EU and its Member States, to manipulate the information environment and to interfere in democratic processes. The threats to the EU’s human rights-based and human-centric model for digital transformation have become more acute and the importance of the leadership of the EU and its Member States on global digital governance is growing.

Following the adoption of the  Council Conclusions on EU Digital Diplomacy in July 2022, the EU established a strong foundation for our external engagement on digital issues. Subsequent Council Conclusions on EU Digital Diplomacy adopted on 26 June 2023 propose a set of priority actions needed for a stronger, more strategic, coherent and effective EU policy and action in global digital affairs. The Conclusions call on both the EU and its Member States to act in a “Team Europe” approach to implement the priority actions: to ensure an enhanced coordination and strategic engagement towards multilateral and multistakeholder fora; to further develop bilateral and regional partnerships, particularly in respect of critical and emerging technologies; to strengthen engagement and cooperation with our partners worldwide on digital connectivity and on addressing digital divides, and finally, to scale up  EU leadership on global digital rules and scale up the efficiency of the EU and Member States’ digital resources, as well as the dialogue with the tech sector and other stakeholders.

  • Remote video URL

HR/VP Josep Borrell on EU Digital Diplomacy

Digital issues are no longer just technical matters. They are the battleground of technology, of values and narratives.

- HR/VP Josep Borrell's remarks on EU Digital Diplomacy at the Foreign Affairs Council, 18 July 2022

Multilateral engagement

The EU approach to the digital transition is firmly anchored in its commitment to multilateralism and the promotion of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and democratic principles. The EU, with the full involvement of the Member States, is developing tailored approaches to strengthen cooperation in and with the UN system, the G7, the G20, the OSCE, the OECD, the WTO, NATO, the Council of Europe and other multilateral fora, including multi-stakeholder organisations, and particularly in standardisation bodies, in which coherent and harmonised European standards play an influential role. The coordinated EU outreach, conducted in close coordination with other partners, in support of common candidates for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) leadership elections in September 2022, provides a good example of the influence of an agreed EU position.

Contributing to the Global Digital Compact

In line with the EU Digital Diplomacy goals, the EU is supporting the process around the UN Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” report, as well as the Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, where the EU, in coordination with the Member States, works with the UN Tech Envoy to ensure a positive Global Digital Compact which has the ambition to develop shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future. The EU joint contribution to the Global Digital Compact underlines the following priorities:

  • The need to maintain an open, free, secure and non-fragmented Internet.
  • The need for the respect of human rights in the digital arena: what is a right offline should be a right online.
  • Support for closing digital divides, especially on education and access to the Internet.
  • The fight against information manipulation & interference, including online disinformation and hate speech.
  • The need for regulation of Artificial Intelligence, using a risk-based approach, which promotes innovation, and is based on the principles of transparency and accountability.
  • The importance of protecting and promoting the Digital Commons (e.g. open source software & operating systems).
  • The need for trusted connectivity.

Defining the EU’s priorities for the Global Digital Compact negotiations
A Zero Draft of the Global Digital Compact is expected to be shared by 31 March and the negotiations on the text will conclude by end June 2024. To ensure that the voices of the multi-stakeholder community are channelled into the EU’s negotiating position and ultimately to the UN negotiating table, the EEAS, the European Commission’s DG CONNECT, and the EUI invite EU-based stakeholders (e.g. civil society organisations, the technical community, the private sector and academia) to share insights on the zero draft as well as the EU priorities for the Global Digital Compact negotiations.

More information on the online consultations on the GDC zero draft (9 April 2024) with the EU civil society can be found here.


Building a Reliable and Human-centred Future for the Internet

Internet governance is at the heart of the global digital debates. The EU’s objective is to safeguard and improve the current multistakeholder model of Internet governance, and avoid a fragmented Internet.

The World Summit on Information Society in 2025 will be a key rendezvous for taking stock of the global Internet Governance after 20 years (“WSIS+20”) and feed into the 2030 Agenda, with digital as an essential accelerator for development and achievement of the SDGs. 

The EU continuously promote the role of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as a fully independent and inclusive multistakeholder platform, including through advocating for open, un-fragmented, free, safe, secure Internet. The EU acknowledges the important role of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in ensuring multistakeholder approach to Internet system, as well as of the technical fora such as Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in this context.

In April 2022, the EU, the US, and dozens of international partners endorsed a Declaration for the future of the Internet, setting out the vision and principles of a trusted Internet. Partners support a future for the Internet that is open, free, global, interoperable, reliable and secure and affirm their commitment to protecting and respecting human rights online and across the digital world. So far, 70 partners have endorsed the Declaration, including all EU Member States.

The Declaration for the Future of the Internet is in line with the rights and principles anchored in the EU and builds on the Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles, signed by the Presidents of the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council, reflecting the shared political commitment of the EU and its Member States to promote and implement the rights and principles in all areas of digital life.

Promoting the importance of Human Rights online

Ensuring a human rights based approach to digital issues is a core element of the EU´s Digital Agenda, as set out in the Council Conclusions on Digital Diplomacy as well as in the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2020-2024). The principles on which EU action will be based in the area of digital and human rights are included in the Declaration on European Digital Rights & Principles, and reflected in the Declaration for the Future of the Internet.

The EU is actively engaging in the UN fora, including at the Human Rights Council, and through its bilateral diplomacy channels, such as Human Rights Dialogues, to call all States to combat internet shutdowns, arbitrary or indiscriminate digital surveillance and data privacy breaches and to protect human rights defenders online. The EU is most active supporter of various UN Resolutions on such Human Rights & Digital issues as New and emerging digital technologies and human rights, The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet or Right to privacy in the digital age. The EU strongly supports the work of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and his office. As the field of new technologies evolves quickly, the EU considers essential the role of UN Special Procedures in providing guidance to the international community on digital and human rights issues.

Bilateral engagement

The EU is developing a comprehensive network of bilateral and regional partnerships. This includes digital partnerships with strategic partners, Global Gateway partnerships and alliances, as well as over 20 digital and cyber dialogues with partners from all over the world.

Building bilateral Digital Partnerships

With the highest level of political steering and the greatest depth of mutual commitments, the EU-US Trade and Technology Council (EU-US TTC) has become the central pillar for transatlantic cooperation on international technology ecosystem based on shared democratic values. The EU-US TTC delivered on AI, on semiconductors, on electric vehicle charging infrastructure, on sustainable trade and promotes joint projects (e.g. on digital connectivity in Jamaica, Kenya). The EU-India Trade and Technology Council was launched to tackle key trade, technological and security challenges.

The EU-Japan Digital Partnership is advancing cooperation on digital issues to foster economic growth, facilitate digital trade, and a human-centric digital transformation based on common values. The EU-Republic of Korea Digital Partnership promotes joint work on semiconductors, next generation mobile networks, quantum and High-Performance Computing, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, platforms, data and skills. Under the EU-Singapore Digital Partnership both sides committed to joint work on critical areas such as semiconductors, trusted data flows and data innovation, digital trust, standards, digital trade facilitation, digital skills for workers, and the digital transformation of businesses and public services. The EU-Canada Digital Partnership will help us strengthen semiconductor supply chains, increase our cooperation on Artificial Intelligence and secure connectivity and cyber threats. The pursuit of common digital trade rules with Australia, India, Indonesia, Thailand and possible digital trade negotiations with the Republic of Korea and Singapore, as well as the negotiation on commitments on cross-border data flows with Japan are key elements of the EU’s effort to promote data free flow with trust.

Enhancing regional cooperation

On the regional level, the EU has set up a number of initiatives to both promote regional cooperation among partners and to increase the level of cooperation between the region and the EU. This includes the EU-LAC Digital Alliance; the EU-ASEAN Connectivity initiative; digital cooperation in the context of the Strategic Partnership with the Gulf; the Digital Agenda for Western Balkans;  the Eastern Partnership’s EU4DIGITAL; the New Agenda for the Mediterranean; the Joint Declaration by the EU and Indo-Pacific countries; the joint commitment to digital transformation in the EU-Africa Joint Vision for 2030.

The Digital for Development (D4D) Hub serves as a strategic multi-stakeholder platform that fosters digital cooperation between the Team Europe and its global partners, promoting human-centric and inclusive approach to digital transformation. The D4D Hub continues to prove the value-added of Team Europe approach and leverages multi-stakeholder partnerships with private sector, civil society and academia. The EU supports African partners to use the opportunities of the Open Internet model (The Open Internet as cornerstone of digitalisation).

As part of its support for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),  the programming of the Global Europe: Neighbourhood, Development & International Cooperation Instrument 2021-2027 foresees up to EUR 6 billion of EU funding available for cooperation in the digital field.

Global Gateway digital projects

Through Global Gateway digital flagship projects, all implemented in a Team Europe approach, the EU promotes secure digital connectivity and responds to the specific needs of individual countries and regions.

The flagship EU-Latin America & Caribbean Digital Alliance, the first intercontinental digital partnership under Global Gateway strategy, supports bi-regional digital policy dialogue based on shared values, promoting EU approach to digital transformation in regulatory matters and advancing key projects. This includes the expansion of the BELLA programme to Central America and the Caribbean, the use of Copernicus satellite data centres, Galileo and EGNOS for Earth observation, disaster management and response, and the digital accelerator to promote digital entrepreneurship and innovation.

The EU-LAC Digital Alliance partners have agreed on joint areas of collaboration on digital matters, marking an important milestone in the strengthening of the bi-regional digital partnership following the endorsement of a Joint Declaration at the third EU-CELAC Summit in July 2023.

In Africa, the EU-Africa Global Gateway Investment Package launched at the EU-African Union Summit 2022 includes a digital transition component (i.e. the EurAfrica Gateway Cable, Building Regional Fibre Optic Backbones across Africa, the Africa Europe Digital Innovation Bridge and the Team Europe Initiative on Data Governance in Africa). 2023 Global Gateway flagship projects benefit also Asia-Pacific (e.g. new satellite connectivity, fibre-optic cables) and the EU’s Neighbourhood (Medusa optical fibre cable for the Southern Neighbourhood and cross-Black Sea cable to the Caucasus).

As part of the implementation of the Global Gateway, digital economy packages combine infrastructure investments with country-level assistance, such as those already launched in Nigeria, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Supporting Ukraine through digital

In the face of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the EU is supporting Ukraine through various digital initiatives. This includes a coordinated cyber-response, the fight against war-related disinformation, securing affordable or free roaming and international calls for Ukrainian refugees in Europe, facilitating recognition of their electronic credentials, joint EU and MS initiatives of support (e.g. ICT equipment, supporting Ukraine’s cyber-resilience) and also export controls and sanctions towards Russia on the tech sector. Long-term support to Ukraine, but also for Moldova and Georgia, includes work on a roaming arrangement with the EU, association to the Digital Europe Programme and the Connecting Europe Facility, and bilateral recognition of electronic signatures and digital identities.

Cooperation with Tech sector

The EU promotes cooperation with the tech industry in key strategic areas, including critical and emerging technologies and secure connectivity, promoting European standards and regulatory approaches. This is done in the framework of industrial dialogue on digital such as the Trade & Technology Councils, Digital Partnerships, Dialogues and Alliances, as well as within key standardisation bodies. A Business Advisory group is being set up to ensure the involvement of the private sector and to discuss the implementation of the Global Gateway strategy, including the digital sector.

The EU is working to ensure global tech giants operate on a level playing field, and meet their responsibilities within and beyond the Union, and to better integrate new technologies in the overall EU security architecture. Since its opening on 1 September 2022, an EU office in San Francisco has managed to reinforce the Team Europe approach in EU’s engagement with the Silicon Valley-based tech sector, by promoting EU digital narrative and EU-US regulatory alignment, while focusing on substantive technology issues of geostrategic importance (AI, semiconductors, quantum, Metaverse).

  • Image
    Digital Technology (Envato)

EU digital policy developments

The EU is providing a competitive global offer across the four areas of Digital Compass. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) established the EU as a global regulator in the digital space. The EU has since taken significant steps along the “Path to the Digital Decade”. The Data Governance Act and the proposed Data Act aim to boost the use of data as a driver for innovation and growth, while the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act are setting the global pace in responding to the regulatory challenge posed by platforms. The Standardisation strategy strengthens the ability of the EU to remain a global standard-setter, the European Chips Act will see the EU strengthen its position in the global semiconductor value chain, and the Space package includes a proposal for building an EU space-based global secure communication system. The Artificial Intelligence Act has proposed the first-ever legal framework on AI, which addresses the risks of AI and positions Europe to play a leading role globally.

The EU’s Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox and the EU Cybersecurity Strategy is being implemented, including through the political agreement on the revised Network and Information Security Directive, and the upcoming Cyber Resilience Act to bolster Europe’s resilience against cyber-threats, as well as by advancing the EU vision of a global, open, stable and secure cyberspace in multilateral, regional, bilateral and multi-stakeholders engagements.

While strengthening its internal digital policy toolbox, the EU has acknowledged the role of digital in its common foreign and security policy including with the adoption of the Strategic Compass, which provides a vision for EU security and defence for the next years, and sets out a number of measures to support the EU’s ability to carry out an active foreign policy, while the Defence package includes a Roadmap on critical technologies for security and defence.

The Critical Raw Materials Act is aimed to equip the EU with the tools to ensure access to a secure and sustainable supply of critical raw materials, for such sectors as the digital industry or defence. The European Economic Security Strategy sets out a common framework for achieving economic security by promoting the EU's economic base and competitiveness; protecting against risks arising from certain economic flows in the context of increased geopolitical tensions and accelerated technological shifts.

Related Press