We were delighted to welcome political leaders from different political parties, and called them on stage one by one: Peter Van Rompuy, Gilles Vanden Burre, Eva Platteau, Ismaël Nuino, Mathieu Michel, Michael Freilich, Christian Leysen and Kris Verduyckt.
While one purpose of the event was to inform our members, we also wanted to use this opportunity to increase awareness of digital policy amongst the invited politicians and their collaborators. We were able to bring the issues of the business users directly to the decision makers, and enable a direct conversation.
Alternating between French and Dutch, our moderators, Björn Crul and Danielle Jacobs, showed enthusiasm and genuine interest, creating the open environment for discussion that Beltug wants. The conversation kicked off with the role of government in the digital transformation, in terms of guiding policies, regulations and investments to ensure a smooth transition to the digital age, and fostering innovation within Belgium.
A minister for digital
We put forward the symbolic need for e.g., a ‘vice-premier minister for digitisation’, to emphasise the importance of having a high-ranking official solely focused on driving digital initiatives and strategies. The panel responded with suggesting that each minister could periodically look at how to digitise their own departments and allow the public servants to test certain digitisation policies. It was also expressed that, during the negotiations for the next government, digital policy should evolve from an annex to a full chapter in the agreements.
Rebalancing the cloud market
Next up was rebalancing the cloud market. While the recently approved Data Act (European level) starts addressing some of the imbalances, there is much work still to be done to ensure fair competition through switching and interoperability. The Belgian B2B Act (aimed at addressing unfairness in B2B contracts) can offer inspiration. Some panellists agreed that, should monopolies form in the cloud market, this would represent a market failure that would then justify regulatory intervention. At various instances, the debate showed openness and realism in how to balance protection, compliance and innovation. In that respect, artificial intelligence (AI) popped up several times, with calls to avoid overregulation, to thoroughly analyse who loses and who benefits from AI, and to leave some of the possibilities of AI unmaterialised, as our society might not want them. Surely, when it comes to AI, our panellists showed the diverse political spectrum they represent.
Cyber security legislation, regulators and oversight
The rising threat of cybercrime is a top priority for Beltug members. Policy makers have come forward with measures such as the NIS2 directive, Critical Entities Resilience directive (CER) and Digital Operational Resilience Act (DORA), which aim to enhance cyber security maturity in the EU. Panellists suggested that clarity in the various Belgian initiatives and institutions is needed, to know who is doing what. One put forward the idea of a minister of cyber security, or creating a separate portfolio for cyber security.
Regulatory oversight and strong regulators are also critical; we posed questions about the role of regulators in the digital landscape and the distribution of competences to our panel. Some were supportive of strong regulators, emphasising the need for robust oversight, while others advocated for a more hands-off approach to foster innovation.
AI, authentication, software copyrights and more
Additionally, we put forward questions on topics such as digital identity, exploring ways to establish secure and convenient methods for digital authentication. Sustainability concerns, notably the ‘energy greediness’ of AI were mentioned. As a counter argument, it was noted that digitisation can enable a ‘paperless’ approach and also reduce the need for transportation.
The emphasis on a ‘lean’ state vs. ‘caring’ state, ‘business’ versus ‘protection of fundamental rights‘ and the ‘philosophical’ exchanges around the absent contribution of data to the social fabric of our communities, was all to be expected. The attentive listener would also note the references to the abolition of copyrights on software, and the government creating competition for a digital identity provider it previously had supported.
Belgium’s upcoming EU presidency
We closed the interesting exchanges and interactions with Belgium’s 2024 EU presidency. What are the priorities for Belgium and for the different political parties?
So was this event a success, and would you like to see this type of dialogue again? If yes, where should we start for the next edition: rebalancing the cloud market perhaps? Send us an email to share your thoughts.
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