Event ReportsPublished on Apr 30, 2021
Future visionaries: India-EU cooperation for digital transitions
“Future visionaries: India-EU cooperation for digital transitions”, was organised as a part of the ongoing Portugal-India series at ORF, in partnership with the Embassy of Portugal in India. The discussion was underscored by both India and the EU’s common vision for digitisation and their shared desire to break out of the US–China duopoly with respect to digitisation and technology. The moderator, Trisha Ray (Associate Fellow, Emerging Technologies, Geopolitics, and Security), started off by highlighting the cornerstone of the India-EU relationship being based in programs like Horizon 2020 and also the six cyber dialogues that the two countries have had on ways to cooperate at existing technology norms forums, following which, the floor was handed over to the panelists. The two distinguished panelists for the event were João Farinha, who is the Advisor to the Secretary of State for Digital Transitions in the Government of Portugal and Dr. Gulshan Rai, a Distinguished Fellow at ORF and Former National Cybersecurity Coordinator, Prime Minister’s Office, Government of India. Dr. Gulshan Rai commenced his address by emphasizing the timeliness of facilitating this dialogue and said that the subject of digital transformation & convergence of technologies is of utmost importance. In his opening remarks, Dr. Rai added that digital transformation has seen a sea change over the years and the fourth wave of digital transformation that we have today is marked by the emergence of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), clouds, data analytics, big data, and cyber security. He explained that “Cyber” is the new-age term that we see around us and we have digital transformation in everything. He further exclaimed that digital transformation has reached new highs in the EU and it is time we worked together to bring in efficiency, productivity, and knowledge to the people. He believed that with increasing instances on cyber breaches and cyber attacks that we come across in international publications every single day, it has become our prime concern to protect this technology lest we have a disaster in the name of cyber security, internet governance, and technology transformation. He further added that it is high time we reached an agreement on the norms of acceptable behavior in cyberspace. Talking about the close ties between India and Portugal, Dr. Rai said that 2017 marked a clear milestone in the relationship between the two countries as they signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) in many areas including Information Technology (IT). Adding that one could see a lot of asymmetry between the Indian and the Portuguese markets, Dr. Rai pointed out that the Indian market size in IT stands at a massive US $190 billion and the security markets is around US $12 to 14 billion. Whereas, the figures for Portugal stands at a very low US $5 billion. But, he feels that the new emergence of technology gives us an opportunity to bring the two countries together and one of the potential areas of collaboration is AI because of the general nature and importance of the same. He added that the second area is the capacity development as we require people to be skilled in the newer technology and the third could be cyber security. On a concluding note, Dr. Rai said that the current Prime Minister of Portugal coming from an Indian origin opens new doors to strengthen the relationship between the two countries in a much better and deeper way so that a constructive partnership could be built in the best interest of both nations. João Farinha began his address by sharing the latest developments in terms of the digital transition agenda adopted by the Portuguese government. Mr. Farinha stated that the programme of the 22nd Portuguese Constitutional Government identified digital transitions as one of its four core priorities, alongside green transitions, demography, and inequality-related challenges. Given the importance of digital transitions, he mentioned that the current government renewed its mandate in October 2019 to create a new governmental area and appoint a new position in the form of the Secretary of State for digital transitions. He further mentioned the Digital Transition Action Plan from March 2020, which is a new operational-oriented document that took stock of all other pre-existing sectoral strategies and action plans, trying to fill on the gaps in broader approach to digital transition. Farinha elucidated that the action plan is organized around three pillars that the government believes are crucial to addressing the challenges and opportunities of digital transitions in Portuguese society: People, businesses, and public administration. Around people, since Portugal still has around 18 percent-19 percent citizens that do not use the internet, this pillar will be focused on capacity-building and digital inclusion from an early age to professional training and reskilling higher education that would promote digital literacy. On the second pillar of business, Farinha said that the focus was on business’s digital transformation. This would be alongside harvesting the opportunities of what technologies bring from the small and medium-sized enterprises’ (SMEs) point of view but also focusing on entrepreneurship investment attraction, complemented by scientific and technological transfers from higher education and research institutions into the economy. Farinha added that the third pillar would rely on the digitisation of all public administration in Portugal and the usage of technology to open up Portugal’s public administration from the central, regional, and local levels. Further speaking about catalysation, which is a broader level common to all the aforementioned pillars, Farinha reiterated his fellow panelists’ perspectives on the importance of regulation, privacy, cyber security and cyber defense. Farinha also agreed with Dr. Rai on the convergence of technologies and the need for an integrated approach to how their potential can be utilised. In the last section of his address, he spoke about other dimensions of the government’s plan that began with the US $14 billion that Portugal will invest in digital transition. He emphasized that these funds will be utilized in a balanced way on projects like digital innovation labs and test beds. Secondly, Farinha conveyed that the Portugal is very focused on accelerating digital transition as an engine of economic recovery, as an engine of developing new technologies in infrastructures and as the backbone of Europe’s leadership in the digital ecosystem. Finally, he substantiated on the last dimension, which would focus on reinforcing Europe as a beacon of digital democracy, through European digital sovereignty and promoting e-government solutions for the 21st century. The complex nature of digital transitions necessitates creative, national, multilateral, and multi-stakeholder solutions to questions such as privacy, data, governance, through resilience and capacity-building, all while ensuring that the processes and outcomes are secure, ethical, and inclusive. India and the EU being two of the largest democracies of the world and likeminded, should use this opportunity to explore various areas of collaboration to further their commitment to this agenda.
This report is prepared by Saaransh Mishra, Research Intern, ORF.
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