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2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday August 25, 2021

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Eleanor Kenny

Eleanor Kenny

Former Head of Communications and External relations , Europeana Foundation

What principles should guide Europe’s digital future?

The European Commission is now consulting on the digital principles that will serve as the foundation of Europe’s digital environment. The Europeana Initiative and European Commission agree that this environment should be human-centred, secure and open. But what other considerations should be taken into account?

Vintage photograph of a child and an adult working on a 1970s computer, with the words 'L'information a la portee de tous'
JR 01 scientific computer
Jouets rationnels
Deventer Musea
The Netherlands

Access to, and the use of, digital services and platforms is no longer an innovation or a ‘nice to have’ - it is an essential resource for citizens and organisations, both public and commercial. It is clear that creating a strong digital foundation for all is not just more important than ever, but absolutely vital to Europe’s future.  A values-based European digital landscape that helps nurture more democratic and inclusive societies, is therefore essential to ensuring a level playing field for all people in the EU to access and leverage the full potential of digital.

The European Commission’s current consultation is asking for the views of EU institutions, Member States, regional and local authorities, NGOs and civil society organisations, international and umbrella organisations, other digital stakeholders, and citizens. 

The views of the cultural heritage sector are important and will shape future debate.

What are the proposed digital principles?

In March 2021, the European Commission published its ‘2030 Digital Compass’ - which outlines a vision for a digital decade, with a goal of reaching a ‘human-centred, sustainable and more prosperous digital future for Europe by 2030’. It proposes that a set of digital principles should help shape our digital society. The consultation is looking for perspectives to help formulate those European digital principles.

Its suggestions for these digital principles are:

  • Universal access to internet services,

  • A secure and trusted online environment,

  • Universal digital education and skills for people to take an active part in society and in democratic processes,

  • Access to digital devices, systems, devices and services that respect the climate and environment,

  • Accessible and human-centric digital public services and administration,

  • Ethical principles for human centric algorithms,

  • Protecting and empowering children and young people in the online space,

  • Access to digital health services.

What is the Europeana Initiative’s position?

The principles proposed by the European Commission in this consultation are important. The Europeana Foundation, Network Association and Aggregators’ Forum, collectively representing the Europeana Initiative, strongly support a rights-based, people-centred approach to the concept of digital citizenship and the development of principles that promote an equitable and democratic digital environment in which

  • basic liberties and rights are protected online, 

  • sovereignty of data is protected,

  • public institutions are empowered to function in the public interest, and 

  • people are able to participate more fully in the creation, functioning and potential of their digital environment.  

The Europeana Initiative recognises the relevance and importance of the proposed principles however we believe that a fundamental principle is missing - that of universal access to cultural heritage online. 

The role of digital technologies in enabling access to culture as a means of promoting inclusivity, creativity, critical engagement, education and knowledge-sharing, is essential to empowering citizens and creating fairer societies. Ensuring the principle of universal and continuing access to culture online will be fundamental to achieving that goal.  

We also believe that the proposed principle of a secure and trusted online environment does not go far enough if our digital landscape is to truly reflect the values-based society that Europe aspires to. It is not enough to aspire to an alternative to Big Tech, we must actively build it. To that end, we propose that this principle be expanded to encompass the concept and development of an open, decentralised, and trusted European digital public space. A digital public space that is built on democratic values and public digital infrastructure, and that ensures an inclusive, rights-based, people-centred alternative.

The Europeana Initiative has responded to this consultation. Read our full response.

How do you respond to the survey?

  1. Go to the consultation.

  1. Create an account if you do not already have one, and then login - it’s a simple process.

  1. Answer a few demographic questions about yourself, or the organisation on whose behalf you are responding,

  2.  Now comes Section I  corresponding to the proposed digital principles. You are asked to what extent you agree that each proposed principle is important. 

  3. You can also provide up to 500 characters of comments related to the topic. For example, you may wish to highlight the importance of shared standards and interoperability of data and systems within the secure and trusted online environment principle.

  4.  If you have ideas for additional digital principles, you can suggest them in Section II. You may wish to include the additional principles suggested by the Europeana Initiative, that of universal access to cultural heritage online and an open, decentralised, and trusted European digital public space.

  5. Finally, you can provide any final comments and even upload a file to your response if you wish.

  6. Don’t forget to click ‘Submit’!

It's over to you now!

Read Europeana’s response to this consultation and take the online survey now. The consultation will close on 2 September. 

Please also take a moment to share this call to action on social media. To make it easy, here’s a tweet to copy/paste: 

I believe universal access to #CulturalHeritage online should be a principle of Europe’s digital future. Do you? You can shape Europe’s digital society. Respond to the @EU_Commission’s consultation by 02 September #EuropeanaCommunities #EUHaveYourSay