Reflections on a Digital Policy and Regulation “under one roof”

What kind of governance does Austria need on the path to innovation leadership?

4 December 2023

In this study, the authors (Prof. Nikolaus Forgó, Prof. Katja Hutter, and Georg Serentschy) outline the proposed target state of the Austrian public authority landscape and its responsibilities. In a section written by Prof. Forgó, he describes the relevant European legal acts and their interaction. He points out that, based on this legislation, there is a call for more intensive cooperation between the institutions involved. In writing the study, the authors were guided in particular by international developments, best practices, and global technological and strategic challenges. Rapidly developing digital technologies often overburden traditional policy and regulatory institutions without a sufficiently strong mandate regarding content and process. Given the increasing geopolitical upheavals and the dramatic technological dependence on the US and China, Europe and Austria must reposition themselves structurally and expand their ability to develop adapted policies agilely. The ability to create new structures and approaches at the policy level is becoming a critical economic and, therefore, also a key political issue, especially for small economies such as Austria.

Furthermore, this is also a prerequisite for maintaining high prosperity and political stability. Based on the historically evolved, fragmented current state of the regulatory landscape and the need to act quickly and sustainably, we propose gradually combining traditional telecoms and digital regulation with innovation and industrial policies. To establish such a holistic approach, it is necessary for the political level to take ownership of this transformation process and to break up the existing vertical silos through targeted and well-thought-out structural adjustments based on a sound strategy and implemented step by step (“de-siloing”).

As a first step, we propose the creation of a Digital Council with bundled digital expertise, which would act as a central coordination and advisory body – with a clear legal mandate – together with cooperating institutions in regulation, funding, and implementation of digitalization. The cooperating institutions will contribute their specific expertise to the Digital Council. According to our proposal, the Digital Council will be developed into a comprehensive digital authority in the second step in the medium term. As shown in the figure below, this new institution should comprise four units and be tasked with regulatory duties in addition to its advisory and strategic mandate. In this institution, one group of experts will advise stakeholders; another will plan and possibly implement funding projects; and the third will act as a think tank with strategic planning tasks for the government and other stakeholders and provide advisory and coordination functions for decision-making bodies. The fourth unit will perform regulatory tasks, i.e., it will also have decision-making and enforcement powers.

To support the activities of this new institution with a multi-stakeholder approach and to make its activities as transparent as possible, we suggest that a Digital Governance Forum (DGF) be set up to advise the Digital Council and, in the next step, the digital authority. The DGF should be composed of stakeholders from various areas of civil society and experts and fulfill the functions of an advisory board. 

You can find the full version of the study (in German) in the download area.

The figure below shows a high-level visualization of our proposal.