EU Digital Policy Activism and why regulation alone is not sufficient

For the past three years, the European Commission has been rolling out a tsunami of new regulations and directives alongside the GDPR. This digital policy activism includes the production of both non-legislative (i.e., strategies, action plans, etc.) and legislative acts (i.e., already applicable regulations and directives, as well as proposals for such regulations or directives).

In its own words, the European Commission is determined to strengthen Europe’s digital sovereignty and set standards rather than follow those of others – with a clear focus on data, technology and infrastructure. These standards are partly of a protective nature (for the sake of competitivenes and consumers), such as DMA and DSA, partly of an industrial and technology policy nature (e.g., Data Strategy, Cloud, Industrial Strategy, Space, etc.) and also regulatory (e.g., AI Act), although it is not trivial to maintain this separation by type due to secondary effects. These 16 flagship initiatives are (in no particular order): Artificial Intelligence Act, Data Strategy, Industrial Strategy, Chips Act, Digital Markets Act (DMA), Digital Services Act (DSA), Digital Identity (eID), High Performance Computing, Digital Skills, Cybersecurity, Space (including a genuine European LEO satellite constellation for secure communication), Connectivity, Contributing to European Defense, EU-US Trade and Technology Council, Cloud Strategy, Quantum Technologies Flagship (which includes Quantum Computing, Quantum Communication, etc.).

With these activities, the European Commission is, on the one hand, creating a very complex policy framework and, on the other hand, Europe has increasingly become a “global regulatory superpower” with far-reaching regulations and stricter consumer protection. These regulations have achieved international reach due to the “Brussels Effect1 and its extraterritorial nature. This raises immediate questions: (1) How will the enforcement of such a complex regulatory framework be organized at the national and European levels, and (2) will this plethora of regulation be sufficient for Europe to successfully defend its prosperity and promote its innovative and industrial strength in the future?

Regulating others does not in itself improve European competitiveness and innovation. In other words, it is not the referee who “makes” the game, but the players on the field (i.e., companies, innovators, investors, and research) who need to be further strengthened and better interconnected so that Europe can maintain and improve its global position. Regulation alone, no matter how comprehensive and sophisticated, is – to put it bluntly – only half the story.

1 Anu Bradford, “The Brussels Effect – How the European Union rules the world”