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On 28. March 2023 Jean Monnet Network hosted a special round table discussion with the Czech Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Bartoš, Ph.D., and Dr. Joachim Schwerin, a top-level expert from the European Commission. The event was moderated by prof. Naděžda Šišková, Head of Jena Monnet Network and Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence in EU Law at the Palacký University in Olomouc. After the introduction of guests and institutions involved in the Jean Monnet Network, the floor was given opening remarks. She highlighted that a roundtable debate is dedicated to digitalization, robotization, and cyber security from the perspective of EU member states and the European Union.

Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Bartoš started his remarks with congratulations to Palacký University in Olomouc for its 450th anniversary. In the context of centuries long-life of the institutions, he also spoke about the changes within society which happen very fast in contrary to reaction to those changes. Regarding approaches to challenges related to the online environment, he stressed that the academic environment is unique because in academia old structures and beliefs are challenged. He highlighted the role of academia and also specific contributions such as the project E-Bezpečí (E-safety), which is also associated with the university and is bringing great results in online security.

Mr. Bartoš summarized government priorities in digitalization, including the establishment of agencies and digital education. For Bartoš and his party, digitalization is crucial (also due to the nature of the Pirate Party, which was created online). He mentioned that Covid-19 was a unique experience that highlighted some issues not working well and stressed that the attack against Ukraine made the issue crucial in the context of democracy. It is a democracy, which is providing critical aspects because citizens shall express their opinions freely, without the threat of being punished.

Regarding digitalization, the ambition of the government is to put everything into the phone. The challenge is connected also to digital data boxes, which is a very old issue starting in 2008/2009. He highlighted that there are still some people, who do not know how to use it and how to submit documents there. One of the results of the crisis is that government and people are better cooperating. For example in the case of e-valet and QR codes, which provides new opportunities for business. This might be applied also to universities to share data about diplomas: once you upload a diploma, other universities may have access to it. One thing the government is an application where everything will be communicated in an emergency, and everything will be in one place.

The Digital Information Agency shall start running very soon. It was one of the most important commitments that there would be a body responsible for digitalization and digital strategy. A very important topic is cyber security, and he is happy that there is a big budget under the National Recovery Plan and cyber security is at the heart of growth. He mentioned the example of Estonia, which is trying to educate its own people in this regard. There are also many other topics including sustainability, energy consumption, blockchain etc. In relation to security, he highlighted great cooperation with National Cyber Security Office (NUKIB).

One of the great challenges and opportunities in AI and related aspects include privacy, copyrights, biometrics, real-time surveillance, and recognition. There will be many more aspects that we do not know yet. For example, self-driven cars and the issue of liability. Who is responsible? Is it a car driver or a car provider? The software creator or service guy, who failed to update the software? Or the internet connection provider? There are many things to be clarified and challenges ahead.

Joachim Schwerin talked about his task to promote digitalization and token economy including block chan. He stressed, that we are experiencing a cultural change in our society with the speed of technological change never seen in history. Normally, when we pass regulations related to a single market, it is possible to update them every five or six years. In relation to technology, it is a much faster process. For example, the emergence of Bitcoin changed the approach significantly, including the issue of intermediaries, who are complicating the issue.

Technology is having very important ethical and philosophical dimensions and its emergence shall be considered in a broader – human-oriented context. The things shall be based on the individualized bottom-up approach: the user shall decide to whom the data will be given. The digitalization approach shall balance threats linked to the technologies on one side and opportunities provided on the other side. Responsibilities and opportunities shall be balanced.

He mentioned that the activities of the European Commission are set for 2030 and are human-centric based and that there are priorities in relation to digital skills, connectivity, digital dialogue etc. There is a digital compass and many other interesting tools.  

The questions section was opened by Dr. Filipec who askedMr. Schwerin about the possibility of the emergence of something like a “Digital Iron Curtain”? He was asking, because some countries (e. g. Russia, China, or Iran) are increasingly perceived as a security threat and there are online measures to limit them in some respects and they have very different attitudes to the use of technology. Mr. Schwerin replied, that during the Communist era, it was possible to exchange letters or to listen to foreign radio in the divided world. In the country, today’s perception is that everyone is having access to the internet and the same information on the internet.  This perception is, however, wrong. There are elements of platforming and control, including the spread of disinformation which is putting democracy under question. According to the opinion of Mr. Schwerin, we see the World disintegrating and digitalization plays an important part in the conflict. The very basic issue is to defend the right of the people to inform themselves and to engage in meaningful discussions. When pointing one finger at someone, we shall point another also at us: how we will deal with this matter and preserve democracy. There shall be a European approach set from the bottom up which shall provide a clear alternative.

Disclaimer: The content is summarized remarks by Ondřej Filipec who freely recorded their main thoughts. Readers interested in detail shall see the full video record which is available here.

The event was organised within the implementation of the Jean Monnet Network „European Union and the Challenges of Modern Society (Legal Issues of Digitalization, Robotization, Cyber Security and Prevention of Hybrid Threats) Project id: 611293-EPP-1-2019-1-CZ-EPPJMO-NETWORK.