Digital Policy Update: Council reveals priorities for the next legislative cycle

The European Union (EU) has been at the forefront of the global push towards digital transformation, adopting a plethora of digital regulations aimed at fostering innovation, ensuring economic growth and competitiveness, and safeguarding fundamental rights.

As we move into the next legislative cycle, the EU Council – under the leadership of the Belgian presidency – has outlined its main priorities in digital policy, emphasizing among others the importance of effective implementation, the need for a European approach to digital technologies, and alignment with sustainable objectives.

Prioritizing Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is a key driver of innovation, economic growth, and sustainability within the EU. But as Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Petra de Sutter stated, it must be balanced to ensure that this transformation benefits all citizens: “[it] must be grounded on a safe, inclusive, sustainable, and human-centric approach – one that upholds democracy and human rights”. Ms de Sutter highlighted the importance of every European citizen having the opportunity to develop essential digital skills and participate actively in the online world.

Mathieu Michel, Belgium’s Secretary of State for digitisation, meanwhile called for a “common European approach to innovative digital technologies striking the right balance between innovation, regulatory burden, and protection of the Union’s economic security”. He also emphasised digital skills and digital infrastructure as key components to achieving this digital transition.

Key Priorities for the Legislative Cycle

The Council has identified several main priorities for the upcoming legislative cycle:

  • Effective Implementation of Digital Regulations: The primary focus is on the “effective, coherent and efficient implementation” of recently adopted digital laws with minimal administrative burden for both public and private sectors. This includes laws such as the AI Act, Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which aim to create a safer and more open digital space in the EU​.

  • Common European Approach: The Council advocates for a unified approach to innovative digital technologies as a crucial element for enhancing the EU’s competitiveness and protecting its economic security. This approach must balance innovation with regulatory measures to ensure a dynamic and open economy.

  • Digital and Green Transition: The Council emphasizes the synergy between digital transformation and the green transition, advocating for ambitious sustainability objectives. This aligns with the EU’s broader goals of achieving climate neutrality and promoting sustainable development​​, as well as reducing their dependence on foreign fossil fuel imports.

  • Building Digital Skills and Bridging the Digital Divide: The Council explicitly refers to the importance of attracting and retaining a digitally skilled workforce, with a particular focus on increasing women’s participation in the tech sector. Bridging the digital divide is critical to ensuring that all citizens can benefit from digital advancements. This also means increasing the number of cybersecurity professionals in the EU. There is already a severe lack of cybersecurity professionals to meet the current demand, and with the demand set to increase exponentially in the coming years, a tangible strategy will need to be employed. The Council fails to outline how this will be achieved.

  • Ensuring Secure and Resilient Infrastructure: The need for secure and resilient digital infrastructure across the EU is paramount. This includes enhancing cybersecurity measures and ensuring the reliability of digital services, but also reducing dependencies on external chip manufacturers and investing in chip-producing technologies and companies with the EU.

  • International Dimension and Digital Partnerships: Strengthening digital partnerships and digital trade agreements is vital for the EU to play a proactive role globally in digital transformation and governance. The Council calls for a coordinated approach to enhance the EU’s influence in international digital policy​​. Using its influence to promote a rights-based approach to digital policy globally will help facilitate these partnerships without compromising the EU’s stated values.

Challenges and Opportunities

Implementing these digital regulations presents both challenges and opportunities. The complexity of harmonizing regulations across Member States, ensuring compliance, and adapting to rapid technological changes are significant hurdles. However, successful implementation can further strengthen the position of the EU as a global leader in digital innovation, providing a robust framework that other regions may follow.

By prioritizing effective implementation, the EU hopes to ensure that its digital policies not only foster economic growth but also uphold the values of democracy, human rights, and sustainability, ultimately benefiting all its citizens.

The EU’s digital strategy aims to create a digital environment that fosters innovation, protects citizens’ rights, and ensures economic security. As the EU navigates the next legislative cycle, the focus on implementing these digital regulations will be crucial in achieving these goals and driving forward the digital transformation agenda.

The Belgian Presidency has made clear its ambitions and focus on implementing the digital transition. However, with Hungary next in line for the Presidency, it is unclear what the focus will be under their stewardship and whether digital transformation will still be a priority.