President of the General Assembly, Secretary General, Excellencies, distinguished colleagues,
The statement I am about to deliver is on behalf of the EU and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the EFTA country Liechtenstein as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.
We thank the PGA for the opportunity to exchange on this important topic today. The Roadmap on Digital Cooperation fits perfectly in the context of rapid technological change and the impacts on the SDGs. Nothing has changed the world so quickly and fundamentally as digital technologies did and continue to do.
Our thanks go to the Secretary General for his outstanding leadership in placing this topic high on the UN agenda and for the inclusive approach which was taken. Thanks go also to USG Fabrizio Hochschild and his team for their tireless efforts in running the different working tables.
The launch of the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation marks an important milestone on the path towards reaching the 2030 Agenda's Sustainable Development Goals as digital transformation affects every aspect of our economy and society.
Shaping a shared vision on digital cooperation and a digital future is clearly a priority - this is an issue which resonates with citizens from all walks of life even more so during the current pandemic and which should be given high visibility during the celebrations of the UN’s 75th anniversary.
The SG's Roadmap mentions three important pillars which need to be addressed in a balanced manner: CONNECT – RESPECT – PROTECT
1 - CONNECT
The COVID-19 crisis has unveiled the different facets of digital technology even more sharply: on the one hand, the crisis showcased how essential digital technologies are for our society and economy. Internet connectivity is now more important than ever. Online services have allowed most people to continue to communicate, work or learn. The good news is that the open and decentralised internet infrastructure has proven its resilience during the crisis.
But on the other hand the risks and challenges become more visible. The huge digital divide still leaves almost half of the World's population without reliable and affordable access, cut off from the benefits of digital technologies for remote learning and remote work technologies, and this has had an impact on the right to education and health.
The EU and its Member States welcome that the UN SG Roadmap focuses on global connectivity. Ensuring open, safe and affordable access to digital infrastructure for all must be on top of the global political agenda! The UN's convening role can be very helpful to mobilise all relevant stakeholders.
The COVID-19 crisis has also demonstrated the crucial need for access to reliable, accurate and science-based information and has confirmed the key role of free, independent, responsible and pluralistic media to enhance transparency, accountability and trust.
In order to address all these challenges, we need to make sure that digital cooperation and governance mechanisms are fit for purpose. We welcome the UN Secretary General's efforts in this matter.
2 - RESPECT
In a speech in January of this year, the Secretary General identified the dark side of the digital world as one of "four horsemen" which threaten every aspect of our global future. So while actively working to maximise the positive impacts and opportunities of digitalisation for all sectors of economy and society at large, we also need to work to mitigate the risks and threats of new technologies.
Digital technologies, including Artificial Intelligence, should be human centric and the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy, good governance, accountability and the rule of law must be assured offline as well as online. We need a safe digital environment, which allows for the freedom of speech while protecting users from harassment and violence and actively combating hate speech. It must be based on the principle of non-discrimination and afford particular protection to children - respecting the child’s right to privacy must be given the highest priority.
The right to an open, safe and free internet must include the protection of and right to privacy and data protection, with particular attention to mass surveillance technologies.
Only then can digital technologies contribute significantly to the promotion and protection of human rights including by increasing access to public services (e.g. right to education) or by ensuring freedom of expression.
Misleading or false information can put lives in danger. It is therefore crucial to resolutely counter all disinformation with transparent, timely and fact-based communication. In times of the COVID-19 health crisis, the spread of the “info-demic” can be as dangerous to human health and security as the pandemic itself.
Protection from digital security threats is an important pillar.
What is most needed is a universal political commitment to digital security which however takes also note of the many existing agreements. Transparency, regional diversity, and multi-stakeholder engagement are critical for us to succeed.
We should build on valuable existing work and initiatives and avoid duplication. Many actors in this space, including civil society, the private sector and Governments, have been leading initiatives in the area of cyber trust and cyber security.
The next steps should be to bring together all stakeholders in order to advance the implementation of the roadmap. We think that the UN continues to be the relevant platform for such deliberations, in partnership with relevant actors, as a multi-stakeholder model is key for digital cooperation as well as digital inclusion.
As many multilateral organisations are addressing these challenges, we should strive to achieve overall coherence across the multilateral system.
The EU's engagement:
A number of EU Member States and EU institutions have been actively involved in the process of developing the roadmap.
The EU has just put forward a digital package “Shaping Europe's digital future” which covers a broad range of issues, from cybersecurity to critical infrastructures, digital education to skills and democracy to media.
The EU also funds a huge number of digital projects in partner countries, mainly in Africa, with a focus on governance, education and agriculture, but also covering energy, infrastructure, health, environment and private sector.
The importance of digitalisation in all policy areas is undeniable. It has proven to be helpful in times of crises but also sharply revealed the challenges we need to tackle. Being cross-cutting and transformational, digital technologies have the potential to accelerate the realization of the 2030 Agenda. While actively working to maximise the positive impacts and opportunities for all sectors, we need to work to mitigate the risks and threats. Digital technologies need to get a prominent part in the “recovering better strategies” – for us the motto is to build back greener but also build back more digital!
To conclude the EU and Member States as strong supporters of multilateralism welcome the UN SG Roadmap on digital cooperation, in particular the focus on connectivity, multi-stakeholder Internet governance and the multidisciplinary approach. While we still need to analyze this document in detail, we think it provides very good guidance for the UN organizations and UN Members.