News

Dr2 Consultants hosts webinar on the EU Data Act and its impact on EU competition and sustainability goals

Following the publication of the EU Data Act in February 2022, Dr2 Consultants hosted a Breakfast Webinar on May 5 to discuss the impact of the Data Act on European competition and sustainability goals. The event was moderated by Cathy Kremer, Senior Consultant at Dr2 Consultants.

Mr. Paolo Falcioni, Director-General of APPLiA, representing the home appliance sector in Europe, and Mr. Radu Surdeanu, Senior Director Government Affairs at Siemens Energy, a large energy company offering products and services along the entire value chain, were invited to shed light on the Data Act from an association and business perspective.

Both speakers agreed with the key ambition of the Data Act, its potential to increase Europe’s competitiveness and contribute to the EU’s sustainability goals, but they underlined there is still a long way to go for this proposal. The rules for the industry need to be more clearly defined and the text should be strengthened in a participatory manner with all stakeholders.

Mr. Falcioni stated that the home appliance industry is committed to facilitate the transition to the circular economy by unlocking all valuable data, while supporting the principles of fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms for making data available. However, Mr. Falcioni wonders to what extent the protection framework to trade secrets would apply and prefers to respect the contractual freedom of the parties involved. Mr. Falcioni noted that some elements were missing in the Commission’s text. He wished to see clarification on conditions and obligations, e.g. which data should be made available and to whom. He wondered how the Data Act will help square the circle between the climate crisis and the EU’s competitiveness.

Mr. Surdeanu welcomed the Data Act and supported the standardization efforts for interoperability. He noted that in the energy sector data and AI are paramount to the development of the sector, offering solutions in terms of decarbonization. He had similar concerns about the Act as Mr. Falcioni regarding trade secrets, contractual freedom, and lack of distinction between B2C and B2B contracts and stated that the high level of ambition does not match the actual proposal. Mr. Surdeanu said a shift in mindset and skills is needed to reach ambitions of the EU’s twin transition. Finally, he said there is a disproportionate ratio between incentives and the regulatory burden. Companies should be more incentivized, especially smaller players for whom digitization might become an obstacle.

Input gathered from this webinar and the next one, which takes place on May 25 and will focus on the impact of the Data Act on the transport sector, will feed into the discussion with institutional stakeholders in the final webinar on June 16.

If you already have not registered for the upcoming two breakfast webinars, you can do so here.

To watch the full replay of the first breakfast webinar click here.

If you would like to stay up to date with the developments regarding EU digital policies and related events, please sign up to our monthly EU Data Policy Update here. Learn more about our EU Data Policy Services here.

European Council March 2022 summit: conflict in Ukraine is a test of European unity and its transatlantic solidarity

Leading up to the European Council 24-25 March 2022 summit it was clear that coming up with a plan to tackle the rising energy prices would be tough. Particularly, Southern EU Member States have demanded concrete actions at European level for a longer time. The conflict in Ukraine and subsequent sanction regime put on Russia have put this topic even higher on the agenda. The situation intensified by Putin’s announcement to only accept rubles as a means to pay for Russian gas imports. The summit was also marked by the presence of US President Joe Biden, who also attended part of the European Council Meeting and made clear that Europe and the US can count on each other in difficult times.

EU’s starting position

Through the new REPowerEU initiative, The European Commission wants to ensure that Europe’s gas supplies are sufficiently filled for next winter. As with the purchase of vaccines during the corona crisis, the Commission wants to start negotiations on behalf of EU countries with more reliable suppliers of gas via pipelines and LNG ships such as the United States, hoping to enforce larger contracts and better prices thanks to the collective power of EU Member States. Northern EU Member States have voiced skepticism about this proposal. The Commission’s proposal also includes the option to replace gas with hydrogen in the future, which gives Europe the opportunity to accelerate the transition to the more sustainable renewables.

North-South division on price interference

Leading up to the European Council March 2022 summit, Southern EU Member States – primarily Spain and Portugal – advocated a price ceiling or an intervention in the functioning of the electricity market, an option that Northern Member States such as the Netherlands and Germany have voiced a dislike for. Member States can help companies with state aid. However, this costs governments a lot of money that goes into unproductive investments, they argue. France seems to have tried to stay in a position to seek consensus. The Commission announced that in this regard, it will release a new report in May with possible medium-term measures for the electricity price.

On the measures to cap gas and electricity prices, The French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, stated on 22 March in preparation of the summit that the discussion was more difficult. Also, an embargo on Russian energy products was an option to be explored. The EU leaders put forward a request to the energy ministers to examine the measures which the Commission proposed to deal with rising prices. On the purchase of gas, LNG and hydrogen they already reached a commitment to work together.

Energy (in)dependence high on the agenda

One of the first major announcements following the European Council March 2022 summit was a commitment by President Biden to increase the American gas supply to Europe to support the EU in its effort towards energy independency from Russia. He vouched the US could replace 10% of the Russian gas export to Europe. It has to be noted, however, that environmentalists raise questions about the environmental impact of said American gas, most of which consists of shale gas. The Green group in the European Parliament already criticized the Commission’s proposals for mandatory filling of gas storage facilities, stating that this can only be a short-term and interim solution in the current crisis. They argue that the Commission must accelerate the approval procedures for subsidies for energy efficiency measures.

Fit for 55 services

On 25 March, the last day of the summit, an embargo on Russian oil and gas was discussed. However, there did not seem to be broad support for such an extensive measure. The morning of 25 March was devoted on how the EU could reduce the Union’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels and how it could deal with rising energy prices. The proposal to cap gas prices is very divisive, while the announcement by the European Commission on the joint gas purchases seems to be more consensual.

Special compromise on price caps

The discussion on price caps on gas was resolved by giving Spain and Portugal special concessions. Because of their specific energy situation, as the Iberian Peninsula is not fully integrated with the European power network, the two countries will be allowed to temporarily exercise a higher control on their domestic energy market. The Commission will, however, maintain the right to control the Spanish and Portuguese emergency measures in order to ensure they do not impede general European interests.

Towards unity on joint actions and strategy

Lastly, the EU Member States announced their intention to pool together the purchasing power of the member states in the international energy market and will therefore explore the possibility of joint energy purchases, specifically for LNG, hydrogen and gas. This will also be coupled with more investments in gas storage facilities. For the long term, it was clearly confirmed that an end of European dependency to Russian energy will be the common strategic objective. A direct embargo on Russian energy products was not made concrete.

Sanctions, data and more

The Council decided to not further increase the sanctions put in place on the Russian economy. This can be interpreted in relation to concerns raised by certain heads of state that the sanctions should not hurt the European economy more than they do the Russian. The Council did confirm that an extra sanction package in the form of a boycott of Russian oil is ready in case Russia crosses the red line of using chemical weapons during the conflict.

Additionally, the Council announced the conception of a Solidarity Trust Fund to support Ukraine. The fund will be open to all sorts of donations and the specifics have been discussed with Ukrainian president Zelensky. Lastly, the EU and the US have confirmed their commitment to negotiate an agreement on data flows and privacy between the two markets. This can be interpreted in relation to the recently published European Data Act that requires such multilateral agreements to facilitate data sharing.

What to expect following the European Council March 2022 summit?

An issue put on the table that remained unresolved is that of decoupling the gas price from the energy market. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced this will be looked at more concretely in May. We can expect this, as well as the REPowerEU agenda to remain in focus for the next months. Furthermore, we can expect more precise information on the German plan to quickly decouple from Russian energy and the Spanish and Portuguese governments are expected to publish details on their emergency energy measures. Any initiatives regarding security and the energy crisis will be dealt with on top of the current legislative priorities. As of this moment, the Commission has not announced that any of the current revisions and or proposals, such as those part of the Fit for 55 package, will be delayed.

Want to know more about these latest developments and how they impact your organization? Please get in touch with us.

Dr2 Consultants launches new EU Data Policy services

Is your organization ready for the new data economy?

Today, 17 February, one week before the publication of the European Commission’s proposal for a Data Act on 23 February, Dr2 Consultants launched its brand-new EU Data Policy services to keep track of EU legislation related to the data economy and support organizations in anticipating its impact as well as identify threats and opportunities.

Data is the cornerstone of every future development across our society and economy, ranging from technological innovations and transport to better energy consumption and privacy. Public and private organizations must prepare for the challenges to come and continuously integrate new policies in their daily business activities.

The European Union has developed a “European strategy for data”, which captures the benefits of better use of data, enhancing productivity and competition, and to become a world leader in the data economy. If you want to know more about what to expect from the Data Act, we have already published a blog post on the first leak.

Dr2 Consultants wants to support organizations in their efforts to anticipate future digital regulations in such a way that they can benefit from all potential opportunities for growth and innovation.

 

Over the last years, Dr2 Consultants has built up a track record in advising a broad range of clients in navigating the EU ecosystem. Whether your regulatory issues relate to infrastructure, data sharing, data privacy, regulation of service providers or digital policies in general, we, at Dr2 Consultants, have the expertise to support you in ensuring your organization can continue to operate and grow.

Jasper Nagtegaal, Managing Partner

Dr2 Consultants has built solid foundations in terms of expertise in digital policy and network by providing support to a wide range of stakeholders, from local start-ups and public institutions to European associations and large corporations.

Dr2 Consultants offers a full range of tailored public affairs services, from a data snapshot report and a comprehensive data impact scan, to data public affairs and communication campaigning, data policy monitoring, and wider EU public affairs trainings.

To stay updated on the latest policy developments, subscribe (tick the box “Digital/Tech” under Communication permissions) to receive our EU Data Policy updates directly to your inbox.

For more information on the data-related legislative initiatives and the way they will impact your organization click here or feel free to reach out to Mr. Jasper Nagtegaal.

Subscribe EU Data Policy Services webpage

Dr2 Consultants nominated for the Trends Gazellen 2022 Award

Dr2 Consultants is proud to announce that it has been nominated for the prestigious Trends Gazellen Award 2022.

Every year, the Trends Magazine selects 250 Trends Gazellens among fast-growing companies that are integral part of Belgian economic landscape. These competitive companies have a positive influence on the business climate in their region and they represent sources of innovation and employment. The Trends Gazellens are regarded as an inspiring role model for other companies.

Over the past decade, Dr2 Consultants has grown into a renowned EU and Belgian Public Affairs consultancy with focus on transport, energy and sustainability and digital-tech. With over 20 international consultants, Dr2 Consultants’ dedicated services include EU and Belgian Public Affairs, the European Green Deal Impact Scan, Fit for 55 services and the Dr2 Academy, a training institute for Public Affairs.

The Dr2 Consultants’ team is honoured to be among the fast-growing companies in the Brussels’ region that have been acknowledged by the Trends Magazine. This year, we are celebrating our 10th anniversary and we are looking forward to further growing our company with our existing clients and network to provide reliable and high-quality Public Affairs services and help companies and organizations to successfully engage with the EU institutions.” Dr2 Consultants’ management team stated.

If you are interested to know more about us and our services, feel free to reach out to us.

What to expect from the French presidency regarding digital files?

In the coming months, it will be crucial for the digital sector to become aware of what needs to be done in a further digitalizing economy. Therefore, this blogpost focuses on the various files that will be addressed by the French Presidency starting from 1 January, under its motto: “Recovery, Power and Sense of Belonging”.

Slovenia’s scoreboard

When Slovenia took over the Presidency of the Council, it was clear that there were a number of important priorities. First of all, the Digital Services Package was the main focus of the Presidency. For both the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA), a general approach at the Competitiveness Council in 25 November was reached. Regarding the Data Governance Act (DGA), the EU Parliament and Council found an agreement on 30 November. The DGA will provide a framework for sharing industrial data across the EU.

Secondly, another priority was cybersecurity. In that regard, the most relevant file was the review of the Directive on Security of Network and Information System (NIS2). It lays out legal measures to boost the overall level of cybersecurity in the EU. Reaching a common position on new rules for cybersecurity on 3 December was again a win for the Slovenians.

Thirdly, the Presidency focused specifically on the different aspects of Artificial Intelligence. In September it held several events organised around AI ethical implication and policy discussions. The aim was to find an agreement on the general approach for the AI Act before the end of the Presidency. However, talks on the AI Act, and other files – including the e-Privacy regulation, are postponed. On the e-Privacy regulation, the Slovenians held just one trilogue. It will now be to the French to lead on talks with the Parliament and the Commission – although do not expect anything this file to become a priority.

What to expect from France?

In the coming months, the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union will lead important files through the institutional negotiations and will be closely involved in the legislative files that are part of the “Digital Decade”, including the Digital Markets Act (DMA), and the Digital Services Act (DSA). Moreover, the French EU Presidency will coincide with French general elections set for mid-April 2022.

There is a lot of expectation on the French Presidency on leading digital files. The country is very eager to set up a robust framework to create legal certainty for the digital world. The French priorities are not fully communicated yet, but the main focus regarding digital and tech will be on both regulation and innovation.

The question of regulation will be at the heart of France’s Presidency. For France, the DSA and DMA are the two most important texts on internet services and they want to keep momentum for regulation.  France hopes the European institutions will come to an agreement in the trilogue during their Presidency and that they can close this file.

On the AI Act, which has been presented by the European Commission on 21 April, France is willing to make as much progress as possible. The priority regarding this file is to preserve regulatory sandboxes, which make it possible to test new technologies transparently and contribute to evidence based law-making.  On the NIS Directive, France underscores the explosion cyberattacks and ransomware. The French government believes it now has a historical opportunity to set standards in the next six months. The aim is to have full control over data in a transparent manner and to close dialogue abroad with major trade partners to harmonize access to data and work together on cybersecurity.

For France it must be a priority to be able to have both regulation as well as the capacity to innovate, especially for SMEs. For innovation, this relates to digital sovereignty and means that the EU is able to catch up in the digital world in comparison to the USA or China. In general, in digital & tech policy, France is quite favorable to scale down foreign tech companies in the hope of scaling up French and EU tech companies. Today, the digital world leader is setting the standards and France is of the opinion that today there are no European leaders in the digital world. Moreover, on 8 November, the French government announced a total of more than €2 billion in funding to be used in the French tech ecosystem over the next five years to create strong champions at the national and European level.

Looking forward

It is clear that the French government aims to advance the digital transformation and deepen the country’s role as a global and European powerhouse when it assumes the EU Presidency in January. But having the adoption of a common position on the AI Act on the agenda, the trilogue negotiations on the DSA and the DMA, combined with the national Presidential elections, will probably slow the progress on other files such as the e-Privacy regulation. Nevertheless, it is clear that France has put its focus on regulating the digital ecosystem. This will make it crucial for the sector to become aware of what needs to be done in the coming period.

Do you want to know more about these legislative files which are expected to dominate the policy discussions in the coming months, or would like to know more about the future of the EU Digital sector, do not hesitate to get in touch with us. Over the last years, Dr2 Consultants has built up a track record in advising a broad range of clients in navigating the EU ecosystem.

Would you like to know more about what the upcoming digital files means for your organization? Feel free to reach out or visit our DigitalTech webpage.

COP26 conference

COP26: Big promises, little accomplishments

For the past two weeks, all eyes have been on Glasgow, Scotland, where the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) took place between 1-12 November. The two weeks of negotiations were supposed to lead to the adoption of an ambitious plan on how to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in alignment with the 2015 Paris Agreement. Dr2 Consultants analyses the success of the conference, which brought together 190 countries and over 30,000 delegates. 

A COP snubbed by key players 

The conference did not kick off with the best odds as China and Russia – two of the biggest emitters worldwide – were absent from the conference. Moreover, both countries had adopted their own climate strategies in parallel to the COP26 summit, but only committing to cutting net carbon emissions by 2060, and not 2050, as deemed necessary by the EU to limit climate warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

Nevertheless, an unexpected agreement was announced by the US and Chinese delegations on 10 November, which showed a will from China to take the climate crisis more seriously, however, specific actions will still need to be determined.  

An array of pledges and commitments at COP26

The two weeks of the conference led to a number of voluntary climate commitments and pledges to reach the targets laid down in the Paris Agreement.   

Deforestation 

On 2 November, the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use was adopted, pledging over $19 billion of public and private spending to stop and reverse deforestation and land degradation by the end of 2030. Forests highly contribute to mitigating climate warming, as they absorb about 30% of COemissions. The statement was backed by major countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which together account for 85% of the globe’s forests. 

Methane pledge 

The US and the EU led the adoption of a pledge to drastically reduce emissions from methane, the second-largest contributor to global warming after CO2. Through the Global Methane Pledge, leaders at COP26 committed to reducing methane emissions by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. If the 100 signatory countries comply with their commitment, it could prevent 0.2 degrees Celsius of global warming. Although significant methane emitters such as Nigeria or Pakistan have joined the pledge, the largest emitters of methane such as China, Russia and India did not. 

End of public funding for fossil fuels 

The British government promoted another pledge to stop public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of 2022. Over 30 countries, including Canada and the US, as well some development banks, such as the European Development Bank and the East African Development Bank, have joined this pledge, which commits signatories to stop using a number of financial instruments, such as loans, grants or share purchases to finance new international fossil fuel developments. 

While China, Japan and South Korea – three of the world’s biggest fossil fuel funders after Canada – did not join the pledge, France and Germany signed it last minute, under pressure from civil society and environmental activists.  

Phase out of coal power 

On 11 November, 23 countries committed to phase out coal power through the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement. The agreement plans for major economies to transition away from coal for energy generation in the 2030s, and the rest of the world in the 2040s. However, countries remain free to decide themselves in which category they fall, and the deal does include major coal-reliant economies such as China, India and the US.  

Sustainable food systems 

Countries participating in COP26 recognized the need for a transition towards sustainable and climate-resilient food systems to achieve climate objectives. However, only 45 governments joined the pledge for urgent actions and investments to shift towards more sustainable farming. This led many environmental activists to denounce the fact that farming and agriculture were not thoroughly addressed in the discussions, despite being responsible for about 20% of global emissions.   

EU commitments  

The EU adopted some specific commitments of its own, notably a Just Energy Transition Partnership with South Africa. The agreement, which also includes France, Germany and the UK, aims to accelerate the decarbonization of South Africa’s economy, and especially its electricity system. Participating governments will provide financial and technological support to South Africa.  

European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, also signed a Memorandum of Understanding launching the EU-Catalyst Partnership, together with Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Catalyst and the European Investment Bank. This partnership will mobilize up to €820 million to accelerate the deployment and commercialization of innovative climate technologies. Investments will be directed towards a portfolio of EU-based projects with high potential in four sectors: clean hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuels, direct air capture and long-duration energy storage. 

Finally, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans announced that the EU would contribute €100 million to the Climate Adaptation Fund, to support the environmental transition of developing countries.  

Would you like to know more about the EU’s sustainability efforts. Subscribe to our Fit for 55 policy updates. Learn more about our Fit for 55 services here.

A watered-down COP26 final agreement 

The COP26 led to the adoption of an agreement, the Glasgow Climate Pact, engaging all 190 participating countries, unlike the previously mentioned pledges, which were voluntary.  

However, to the disappointment of many, first and foremost COP26 President Alok Sharma and UN Secretary Antonio Guterres, the final agreement was considerably watered-downed compared to previous negotiating versions drafted by the COP26 Presidency. Indeed, under the pressure of India and China, a commitment on coal was made less stringent, with the final text only mentioning “phasing down” of coal instead of “phasing out”. Language on cutting out fossil fuel subsidies was also significantly watered-down.  

Analysts find that commitments under the current agreement are not sufficient to stay under 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, but rather put the world on track for above 2 degrees Celsius in temperature rises. 

An agreement with mixed reviews

MEP Pascal Canfin (Renew Europe, France), leader of the European Parliament’s delegation to the COP26, remained cautiously positive, stating that although a lot remains to be done, the COP26 showed that the climate crisis is taken seriously worldwide. In a swing towards the US, China and India, he nonetheless called for big emitters to adopt concrete and credible roadmaps towards net zero emissions.  

Ursula von der Leyen and Frans Timmermans issued similar statements, saying that the final agreement keeps within reach the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, although much work remains ahead.  

Other MEPs were more transparent regarding their disappointment. MEP Jyvtte Guteland (S&D, SE), Coordinator for the Socialists & Democrats in the Environment Committee, would have liked to see more cooperation among the US and China, for example in methane and the phasing out of fossil-fueled vehicles, and more ambitious commitments from other countries, especially from China to commit to stop using coal for power generation or for India to move its net zero emissions target sooner than 2070.  

All political groups in the European Parliament share the opinion that big polluters must increase their efforts to combat climate change and the EU should motivate and encourage countries to follow its ambition to achieve climate neutrality. In the light of lacking ambitions from international partners, Renew Europe highlighted the need for the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, proposed in July by the European Commission.  

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/unfccc/51677360193/ 

A global business case for the energy transition through public affairs

For its annual trend report, this year the Dr2 Consultants network conducted interviews with experts to examine public affairs in the energy transition between China and the EU.

The general conclusion is clear: governments need to create a global business case so that civil society can truly reap the benefits of international cooperation. Public affairs is an important tool in this.

Trends

Contrary to the current course of international policy, our research found that creating a level playing field does not start with high-level multilateral agreements. The pragmatic approach of the private sector in China and the EU has resulted in successful bilateral cooperation, which can serve as a model for better international policy.

Four trends were discovered in the interviews:

First, governments can learn from each other. Finding the right combination between policy strengths from China and the EU may accelerate the international energy transition. Important in this is that the private sector has a prominent place for input in the government-to-government discussions. Zhonghua Xu from TotalEnergies Asia confirms from practical experience that Chinese people are big risk-takers, (….) eager to test ideas on a large scale into the market. On the other hand, Europe is really good in taking initiative. So working together, we can achieve the carbon neutral mark.

Second, international policy does not reflect current reality. Flora Kan of the EU-China Energy Cooperation Platform, describes that international cooperation in the energy transition is predominantly led by the private sector and is often more pragmatic and innovative. Companies that have boots on the ground in multiple countries already engage in cooperation which bridges differences and addresses the local issues at hand. Whereas multilateral discussions over binding agreements are very time-consuming, and we are only nine years away from the 2030 targets.

Third, civil society needs governments to create a global business case. The foundation of successful international collaboration, especially in the energy transition, is trust. Without tackling unequal competition and socio-economic differences this trust will be difficult to build up. Only global level playing field can ensure that no one stays left behind, and that companies can compete on an equal level. Highlighted by Ulco Vermeulen at Gasunie; we can’t do much about natural conditions, but we can do something about the global market. If you can organize together, everyone benefits.

And fourth, public affairs is bridging the world! Innovation cannot thrive without the people facilitating international cooperation. Simon Lemin of TÜVSÜD China mentions that private companies need to get involved in international organizations so that they can steer policy and standards. As mentioned by Christof van Agt of the International Energy Forum, people-to-people diplomacy is excruciatingly important to ensure the transmission of ideas and inspiration, and to overcome cultural differences.  

The “Annual Trend Report 2021, The Energy Transition in China and the EU” can be downloaded for free here.

Frans van Drimmelen, founder and CEO of Dr2 Consultants:

“Every year, our international team researches an important development in the field of public affairs. This time we have chosen to focus on the energy transition, as we see that civil society is eager for deeper cooperation with governments to achieve workable solutions. Dr2 hopes to contribute to increased and more efficient international policy dialogues through the content of this report.”

The Annual Trend Report 2021 includes interviews with high-level representatives from amongst others the International Energy Forum (IEF), EU-China Energy Cooperation Platform (ECECP), TotalEnergies, European Union Chamber of Commerce in China (EUCCC), TÜV SÜD, Gasunie, Dutch National Hydrogen Platform, and the Province of South Holland.

About the Dr2 Consultants network

Dr2 Consultants is a strategic consultancy network that operates at the intersection of corporate communication and public affairs, with offices in The Hague (Dröge & van Drimmelen), Brussels, Copenhagen, New York and Shanghai. We advise public and private institutions all over the world on how to acquire social and political support for their issues. All offices within the Dr2 network facilitate public-private cooperation in the energy transition and related areas; clean energy, CCU, (food-)waste management, etc.

Alexander De Croo announces Belgian priorities for years to come

On 12 October, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo gave the yearly State of the Union address in the Federal Parliament, during which he outlined the government’s focus areas for the next year(s). De Croo touched upon various topics like the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Belgian economy as well as the key role the country has played in the development and production of vaccines.

Preparing for the aftermath of this world-wide crisis, the Prime Minister underlined the importance to invest strongly to modernize the Belgian economy through digitalization and making it more sustainable. In this light, De Croo announced that the government from this point until 2024 would invest €1 billion in digitalization and sustainability projects.

“We moeten niet alleen herstellen, onze economie moet ook verder vernieuwen, digitaler en duurzamer worden”

Regarding digitalization, Belgium aims mainly to focus on developing digital skills, artificial intelligence, cyber security and 5G. In addition, De Croo announced the country would start research on the development of 6G to provide fast connections ready for the future. In addition, the Prime Minister revealed that the various government services would take further steps in digitalization, making these services more accessible, trustworthy and less expensive.

Regarding sustainability, De Croo underlined that there are many opportunities to be found in the transition towards climate neutrality, with Belgian sustainable technologies potentially leading the way. In this light, the Prime Minister stressed that Belgium is already world-wide among the best performers when it comes to offshore energy production and announced that the government aims to double the wind energy production in the Nord Sea. In addition, Belgium will launch projects on solar panels at sea and invest in the development of hydrogen to make the country’s industry carbon neutral. In line with these investments, De Croo said that his government will further invest in transport by rail and improve access to maritime ports to decrease transport by road as much as possible.

“Nos technologies belges, elles, changeront le monde”

De Croo also highlighted that, more than ever, the government is convinced of the importance of European cooperation. He referred to the European joint procurement of corona vaccines as an excellent example. For him this was a proof that the EU today stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world. Equally, when looking at renewable energy and energy efficiency, the Prime Minister underlined that cooperation on EU level was key.

The Prime Minister also made a statement about the Brexit agreement and the troubles this had caused to the country. The brexiteers were wrong to refer to the European Union as the problem, the Prime Minister concluded.

“Europa is niet het probleem. Het is de oplossing. Omdat we samen sterk staan. L’union fait la force.”

The State of the Union by Alexander De Croo underlines the importance of acknowledging all the opportunities for green and digital initiatives and shows clearly that there is a lot of room for companies to either become more sustainable and digitally active themselves, or to provide new innovations to speed up the transitions. Dr2 Consultants is ready to provide further guidance in the Belgian plans to renew their economy.

Cybersecurity month: increasing digital resiliency

Recently, the European Union launched its annual campaign dedicated to promoting cybersecurity among EU citizens and organizations, in order to provide up-to-date online security information through awareness-raising and share of good practices. For this reason, October 2021 is dedicated to cybersecurity. The main objectives of the EU’s 2021 Campaign are to ensure that end-users and organisations are well informed on potential cybersecurity risks and that they stay safe online.

The past year has highlighted the importance of digitalization across all areas of the economy and society. People and businesses started relying on digital solutions to interact and keep their businesses afloat. Dr2 Consultants expects the pandemic will have triggered permanent changes, making it imperative for businesses and governments to invest in digital solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic added a sense of tremendous urgency to digital developments and has led citizens and businesses to conduct their daily lives and work online. This change of habits has opened the way to new business opportunities, but it also paved the way to online threats and vulnerability to cyberattacks, ransomwares and hackers. In this blog, Dr2 Consultants provides an oversight of the digital challenges the EU is working on. Dr2 Consultants believes cybersecurity is the solution to this threat, and the European Union and its Member States are increasingly aware of it.

Cybersecurity: a fundamental factor of stability

World-wide online security will be a fundamental factor of stability in the future, as local authorities, public institutions, citizens and businesses rely more and more on online websites and portals, which store data. Dr2 Consultants is convinced that a successful digital transformation depends on data-driven innovation, which in turn relies on the safety and stability of those data. It is therefore crucial to create a safe and easy way to maintain control over the virtual gold of the new society.

The Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) agreed on 1 October on the proposal of the Data Governance Act, which creates a framework to foster a new business model – data intermediation services – to provide a secure environment to help companies or individuals sharing data. For companies, it would support voluntary data-sharing between businesses or facilitate the compliance with the obligations set by law. By using these services, companies will be able to share their data without the fear of misuse or a loss of competitive advantage.

In her State of the European Union speech on 15 September, EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen mentioned the need for a European Cyber Defence Policy, including legislation on common standards under a new European Cyber Resilience Act, expected to be announced in 2022. President von der Leyen announced further investments in digital infrastructures, as well as boosting digital skills.

This shows that educating online users has become more important than ever before. The European Commission is pushing forward with public consultations and planned legislation in the digital sector such as the Digital Services Act and the Data Act. With France set to take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in January 2022, it would also make a priority on the digital files. Heads of the European and French cybersecurity agencies already asked for higher spending on cybersecurity.

Member States also long recognized the need to ensure the resilience of critical infrastructures providing services which are essential for the smooth running of the internal market and the lives and livelihoods of European citizens. Furthermore, Dr2 Consultants expects the contribution of businesses will have a crucial impact in making these initiatives balanced and future-proof.

What can Dr2 Consultants do for you?

These developments will impact business operations in a wide array of industries in various ways. Dr2 Consultants has the right knowledge and capacity to help organizations and companies identify the right impact and opportunities of this draft legislation. If you think that your organization too will be impacted by the European Commission’s legislative initiatives on data governance, artificial intelligence, digital services and more, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

SOTEU: What to expect from a greener and more digital Europe

On 15 September, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered her second ‘State of the Union 2021’ address during the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.  

In her speech, President von der Leyen focused on the main achievements of the Commission over the last year, addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic together with a list of ambitious goals to re-launch the Union’s economy, focusing on digitalization and decarbonization. The Commission aims to close the climate finance gap, calling on global partners like the US and China to take serious commitments. Among the Commission’s priorities, von der Leyen referred specifically to the ambition of the block decreasing CO2 emissions by at least 55% by 2030. She stressed that Europe cannot act alone stating that “the COP26 in Glasgow will be a moment of truth for the global community.” In this light, the President said that the EU would propose an additional €4 billion in climate financing until 2027.  

Furthermore, President von der Leyen announced a new connectivity strategy called Global Gateway partnerships, which would enhance investments in quality infrastructure, connecting goods, people and services around the world.  

             “We want to create links – and not dependencies!” 

In the same vein, von der Leyen emphasized the importance of the European strategy to boost the digital transformation and match the digital 2030 goals, stating that “digital is the make-or-break issue […] So this is not just a matter of our competitiveness. This is also a matter of tech sovereignty. So, let’s put all of our focus on it.” 

As part of the digital agenda, she announced two new initiatives to be published in the upcoming months. Firstly, the new European Chips Act, which aims to create new markets for ground-breaking European tech. Secondly, the European Cyber Resilience Act with the goal to enhance the capability to address cyber threats. Also, President von der Leyen announced further investments in digital infrastructures, like the expansion of 5G and fibre as well as boosting digital skills. 

These initiatives are all aimed at protecting the future of the young generation, therefore, President von der Leyen declared 2022 to be the Year of the European Youth. In this context, the Commission will put in place a new program to help young Europeans to find temporary jobs in other EU countries, called ALMA. 

Overall, President von der Leyen was confident about the future of the EU when facing all the challenges ahead.  

After the State of the European Union, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) reacted to the Commission President’s speech. Manfred Weber, President of the European People’s Party (EPP) welcomed the Commission’s plan to boost the European economy and to invest in particular in new opportunities, like sustainable mobility that would create new jobs. In this light, he said that close cooperation with the United States was key and proposed to establish an EU-US trade emergency program.  

On the other hand, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) were more critical and called, together with the Greens/EFA, for further ambition on the climate strategy and biodiversity legislation. The Greens/EFA went even further criticizing the Commission for taking only half measures and stressed that achieving the Green Deal goals was at stake.  

What’s next?

On 19 October, the Commission will present its work program for 2022 outlining upcoming priorities and both legislative as well as non-legislative proposals.