Brainstorming Europe’s Digital Power

The digital challenge affects almost every aspect of the global economic and political spheres, and it is a challenge that Europe is so far failing to meet. The numbers 101, 36, and 18 give some indication of the scale of the test: 101 start-ups in the United States are valued at over $1 billion; 36 start-ups in China are; and in Europe, just 18 are. As digital power radically redefines and redistributes economic and political power on an international scale, we are entering a new game, and it has new rules.

Europe needs to develop a strategic approach to the digital revolution. In response, ECFR’s Europe’s Digital Power project aims to raise awareness among policymakers about the implications of the digital revolution for Europe; to identify weaknesses in Europe’s ability to respond to it; and to propose solutions. In order to achieve this, the project has been organising digital brainstorming sessions in capitals around Europe. So far, digital experts from across the spectrum of society have attended two workshops in Madrid and Berlin. 

On 9 December 2015, the digital project was officially launched in the first brainstorming workshop, which took place in Madrid. The first session of the workshop, “The New Great Game”, focused on the digital challenges Europe faces at the geopolitical and geo-economic level. The discussion explored the problems of the fragmented nature of the European digital market, inconsistent and unpredictable regulation, an inflexible labour market, inadequate venture capital for start-ups (related to a risk-averse culture), the disengagement of policymakers, and the difficulty in distributing the wealth generated by the internet. 

In the second session, “How to win the game”, industry actors suggested ways that Europe could meet these challenges, which was followed by a lively debate on the role that the European Union could play. The US and Russia/China are dominant and opposing actors with very different views on the shape the internet should take, while between these poles there are swing states such as Brazil and Turkey. The EU could form a bridge between the US (which is aligned to the EU’s open society values) and the swing states (which are fearful of US internet dominance). The marked disagreement between EU member states on digital issues (as seen in internet governance forums) can be used as a strength, producing a truly globalised position that could allow Europe to play an effective mediating role.



April saw the digital roadshow go to Berlin, where two productive brainstorming sessions were held. The first session began with a presentation of the project’s framing paper, “The New Great Game”, which outlines the project’s perspective on the digital challenges affecting geopolitics and geo-economics in Europe. The subsequent discussion explored the key obstacles, threats, and opportunities that the EU faces in this area and debated the foreign policy strategies that Europe should follow to avoid digital irrelevance, in terms of economics, security, and soft power.

The second session examined the German debate on digital issues, focusing on the following questions: What are the visions and strategies of the German public and private actors? What are their priorities, needs, and fears? How much cooperation or conflict do they see between Europe and the US? The discussion also explored views and opinions from industry actors in Germany on the digitalisation of manufacturing, on the impact of Industry 4.0 on businesses, and on how to achieve a genuine Single Digital Market. And the debate touched upon the ways that data protection, privacy, and copyright issues affect Europe’s capacity to stay relevant on the world stage.

Photos (Berlin event):

25.04.2016 Berlin Digital Workshop

Photos (Madrid event):

Madrid - Brainstorming Sessions - Europe's digital power