March 8, 2018


Marietje Schaake
Marietje Schaake

Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament representing the Netherlands, is an influential voice on issues related to cyberspace, transatlantic trade, and more. In a March 1 visit for SIPA’s Tech and Society Speaker Series, Schaake spoke about ways for the European Union and United States to potentially align more closely on cybersecurity and related issues.

Dean Merit E. Janow opened the discussion with an inquiry about the impending General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR] for Europe and the introduction of the single digital market–both products of legislation that tackle privacy, security, and trade issues.

“The GDPR will enter into force in May,” Schaake said. “It is a very ambitious regulation, [and] I am sure there will be some challenges to iron out. But I do think it is a natural translation of the protection of the rights of Europeans offline to the online world.”

Asked if Europe had struck the right balance between protection and innovation, Schaake said they were moving in the right direction, but not fast enough.

“The digital single market is really a package to remove all unnecessary barriers—regulations and legacy legislations—that still exist between countries, and to sort of try to make one harmonized space,” she explained. “The promise of the single markets, offline and online, is to create the free flow of capital, goods, services, and people… This should also go for knowledge.”

Schaake said the distinct legal frameworks in each of the EU’s 28 member countries impedes the goal of the digital single market—to create one predictable level-playing field for consumers, small and medium enterprises, and American tech companies.

She also noted the EU’s “increasingly successful” role in setting global norms in the digital space and the digital economy.

“The GDPR is one of the big products of this norm-setting,” she said, “but we also established net neutrality in EU law, which is now under pressure in the U.S., under the Trump administration.  I hope the EU will continue to take this normative approach to the digital environment.”

Schaake observed that new technologies can be disruptive, and underscored that laws that apply offline should apply online as well. She expressed frustration with complications in the effort to transpose such laws while ensuring fair competition and allowing for non-discrimination on tech platforms. She also reiterated the need to integrate uncontroversial, fundamental principles like fair competition, nondiscrimination, freedom of expression, and access to information.

The real challenge, said Schaake, is “for lawmakers to ensure that the rule of law retains its meaning and gets translated into laws in the online world.”

Janow said that subsidiarity—the notion that that decisions should be made locally, rather than centrally, where possible—was a useful guiding principle that allows the EU’s member states to take different approaches.

In that context, she asked, “What are the norms that should be exported, and how much of the heterogeneity of the world does Europe need to have tolerance for?”

Schaake responded that the EU’s focus for now is protecting the rights of Europeans in Europe. But on some level, she said, the EU is also harmonizing the regulatory space.

“It’s sort of similar to what you’re experiencing here in the U.S., where you have a federal system,” she said. “Some decisions are made for the entire country, other decisions are made on the state level, there’s a constant battle about this that is fought out before courts… who’s in charge?”

In discussing EU-U.S. cooperation in this sphere, Schaake said that Europeans would like to see a stronger American commitment to privacy rights, but acknowledged that “there is logical friction between the territoriality of law and the global nature of the internet.”

Still, she said that the United States and Europe shared common values that should lend to a cohesive framework when it came to cybersecurity.

“A lot of our history, values and laws are more similar than different,” she said. “We need to hold tight as the liberal democracies, open economies, and stewards of the open internet.”

Schaake first visited SIPA for the inaugural conference of the Digital Futures Policy Forum in 2015, and she prefaced her remarks with praise for SIPA’s and Columbia’s leadership in matters of digital policy.

“It is important to have research and fact-based discussions because when it comes to cyber there are still a lot of myths floating around,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful to see the mix of policy and academia toward this direction.”

— Neha Sharma MPA ’18