The IES Inaugural Lecture launches the academic year and the Jean Monnet Chair of professor Kalimo

The IES Inaugural lecture launched the two post-graduate programmes of the Institute – the PILC and the EuroMaster -- and the Jean Monnet Chair of prof Harri Kalimo on Wednesday 28 September. Speaking in the event was Belgian Secretary of State Philippe De Backer, who with professor Kalimo explored the current state of the European Union from the viewpoint of the digital economy. Europe is facing fundamental challenges both internally and externally, BREXIT being now at the helm of the challenges. Yet with or without the UK as its member, the EU’s future will depend on its ability to take full advantage of the changes that the digital future is bringing with it. Less than 10 % of the Fortune 500 companies today are the same as those 50 years ago. Opportunities abound, but will require much more determined support from the Union in seizing them than has been the case thus far.

Although progress in areas such as copyrights remains sluggish, advances have been made in important areas. A topical example is data protection: the General Data Protection Regulation will, indeed as a regulation, simplify the European privacy landscape. The new enforcement rules, including the possibility of very substantial financial sanctions on non-compliant companies, will raise privacy from a technical IT issue to corporate Board rooms. While the appropriate respect of privacy is central to European society, it cannot be assessed in a vacuum, however. Innovation in the digital era is based on ability to access and manage Big data, and this is so for the private and public sectors alike. The act of reconciling privacy with innovation in data protection rules is delicate and paramount. The balance becomes even more complicated to achieve, when the assessment involves multiple sectors. Should data protection issues become also a part of a competition law analysis of data companies’ activities on the marketplace, à la the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook? Should the assessments of innovation and privacy thus involve both competition and data protection authorities?

The challenge of societal value reconciliation lies at the core of Professor Kalimo’s Jean Monnet Chair. Through the PILC and EuroMaster programmes, as well as PhD seminars, the Chair will explore how the EU can strike the appropriate balances between competing values such as privacy and innovation, or the economy and the environment.  Finding appropriate ways to balance European values is central for the EU to reclaim the public’s trust on its actions. We are, in the end, a Union based on our core values.