Paris Cyber Week - Speech by Jean-Yves Le Drian (8 Jun. 2021)


- Check against delivery -

Ministers, Members of Parliament, Ladies and gentlemen,

The brutalization of international life, the intensification of power struggles, the opposition of models, in other words consequential trends that are completely changing the world in which we live, do not stop at the limits of cyber space. This border is now as unclear as ever, because of a twofold movement converging.

Firstly, we are digitalizing more and more strategic responsibilities, which engage at the very core of our security, our economy and our democracies.

Secondly, digital technology is playing an ever growing role in the “physical” world – for better or for worse, for example when online hate leads to acts of violence that have absolutely nothing virtual about them.

Whether as a political leader, private sector actor or member of the academic community, we are all faced on a daily basis with new threats, new antagonisms and new challenges, which are well beyond being purely technological. What is at stake in this digital brutalization, in this digital competition, in the opposition of digital models, is, in fact, our future, the future of Europeans, in all its dimensions.

It is our interests, and our ability to continue to truly defend them.

And it is the values that we cherish: these values of progress and freedom that we have placed at the core of our societal choices and that we are promoting internationally, because they have a universal reach.

That is why we must give ourselves the means to implement, for our sovereignty, new digital geopolitics. And why Europe must play a full role and wield its influence to defend its sovereign interests and values, including in the digital realm.

I think we must have the future aim of making Internet a common good of the 21st century, which means collectively defending its founding principles amid spectacular technological, economic and political changes.

Defending the principle of an open Internet, against authoritarian States that seek to use new technologies to better monitor, better control and better censure, at times using the pretext of the pandemic to justify the building of more impenetrable barriers between their networks and other networks.

Defending the principle of a neutral Internet, against a risk of ideological fragmentation of the Web and social media, real exchanges are only possible if the new digital agora remains a truly public space. We have already seen how “filter bubbles”, which enclose Internet users, play into the worst radicalizations.

Defending also the principle of a transparent Internet, faced with digital giants, which, with their strong monopolistic positions, are now able – without any legitimacy, and without admitting it publically – to impose practices on millions of consumers.

Lastly, defending the principle of a safe Internet, against cyber attacks and cyber crime. It is even more urgent given that the current crisis has made cyber space more unstable and certain groups of cyber criminals are taking advantage of our massive use of digital tools to increase malicious acts, including on our critical infrastructures, which is especially worrying.

I would like to stress that if we are to champion this vision of an open, neutral, transparent and safe Internet and – above all – develop it in concrete terms for ourselves and with our partners, we must work in favour of our interests and act on behalf of our values. For our interests and values are interconnected, when we speak of our European sovereignty and the collective regulation model that we need to build on a global scale.

This does not mean building a European Internet, nor does it mean imposing on anybody any type of digital hegemony.

But simply making our own choices, within an international framework that truly ensures, for all, the possibility to decide freely, which requires rules accepted by all.

What we are demanding is therefore not digital sovereignism, which confuses turning inwards with independence. But true digital sovereignty which, like political sovereignty of States, of which it is one of the prolongations and now one of the guarantees, is not built against international law and multilateral rules but, on the contrary, depends on them.

This dual digital strategy, focused on both strengthening our sovereignty and on the development of international cooperation, will be a priority of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in the first six months of 2022.

It is still too early to determine its specific aims and major events.

But it is, of course, clear that we will take advantage of this Presidency to move forward, with our partners of the 27 Member States, on each of the four main projects that we have already launched in this area.

Starting with security in cyber space, because it is an essential condition of our digital sovereignty and our sovereignty, period.

We are pursuing a three-pronged goal. First, we need to step up solidarity among Member States when it comes to cyber aggressions. Next, we must build our cyber capacities in Europe and increase the resilience of our networks and our infrastructures. Lastly, we must use our diplomatic leverage to discourage aggressive behaviours and encourage alliances and cooperation with our partners.

All these efforts must be pursued in close collaboration with the private sector and civil society. Because States cannot act alone. That is why France has launched initiatives such as the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace. I would also like to commend the community of support for the Call, which has played an important role in international negotiations.

The challenge of cyber security also concerns the balance and vitality of our democracies.
To counter the dissemination of terrorist content online, States, in this area as well, must work with private companies and civil society.
That is the meaning of the Christchurch Call, of which we celebrated the second anniversary a few weeks ago. And I would like, in this regard, to commend Estonia, which joined the Call on that occasion, as did the United States.

And to thwart the misinformation campaigns conducted by foreign actors, which are inadmissible attempts of interference, we have implemented the European Democracy Action Plan and have taken the first steps internationally with the Information and Democracy Partnership that we launched with Reporters Without Borders and our partners in the Alliance for Multilateralism.

Innovation is also of paramount importance.

In this area as in others, Europe has major assets that it must mobilize and promote more effectively. We also have many very high-level actors in Europe and it is in our interest to support them more actively. By establishing a more equitable environment that is more conducive to innovation and growth of European companies. The Digital Markets Act is a first step in this direction. By pooling our resources, in order to support the research and development needed for our technological sovereignty. All the financial tools of the European Union must be mobilized in addition to private investment. And investment must be facilitated in strategic sectors such as cloud computing, electronics and connectivity.

Another major asset of Europeans: our ability to act in terms of normative power, which we must make the most of in order to consolidate a model for protecting rights and regulations globally, building on what we accomplished with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The big digital platforms must be held accountable for the content disseminated thanks to their services. Thanks to the Digital Services Act (DSA) that we are establishing, we will be able to make sure this happens.

It is also important to re-establish the balance in the distribution of income generated by digital services, thanks to appropriate taxation policies.
The historic agreement reached last weekend by the G7 Ministers of Finance is a crucial step in this battle, which – as you know – has long been France’s battle.

Regulation of artificial intelligence is also a key issue, and we must address it accordingly. At the end of the year, France will also take up the Presidency of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, which brings together researchers and experts to define the main principles that must guide the development and use of this technology which is called to play a considerable role in all areas in the future.

Lastly, we need to be careful of what we call “digital commons”.

Again: we believe that we do not need to choose between sovereignty, as we conceive it and as we practice it, and our common goods. While controlling our own data, and developing the infrastructure for ensuring our digital sovereignty and our competitiveness, we must preserve access to resources that are produced, used and managed collectively by user communities and fight to keep them free of capture and exploitation. What we can preserve in the digital space will be determine our freedom of action.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is what I came to speak to you about, on the first day of this year’s Paris Cyber Week, where I am delighted to see so many of our key partners represented in these new battles for European digital sovereignty and tangible implementation of a new digital humanism.

I would like to commend our Estonian friends in particular, with whom we have had high-quality exchanges in the areas of the digital economy, cyber security and even e-government.

Critical issues – as you well know – for the Europe of tomorrow!

Thank you.