Retrospect: Franco-German workshop on political and geographical issues of „digital sovereignty“: October 28th, 29th & 30th, 2020

The interdisciplinary EFI research group „Discourses and Practices of a Digital Sovereignty“ at FAU and the French interdisciplinary research group „Geopolitics of the datasphere“ did organize a first joint workshop via video conference after the postponement due to the pandemic at the end of October. The workshop started with a public webinar in which Prof. Amaël Cattaruzza, Prof. Frédérik Douzet (both GEODE Paris) as well as Finn Dammann MA and Prof. Georg Glasze (both FAU) were able to show how the demand for „digital sovereignty“ in the 2010s was initially put forward by the authoritarian states of China and Russia in particular, but then quickly became a buzzword in the political debate in France, Germany and the wider EU.

The workshop was divided into five thematic sessions. Under the title „Geopolitizing the datasphere D/F/EU“, seven contributions discussed, for example, how the concept of „digital sovereignty“ has developed in Germany, France and the wider EU, which concrete policies have been legitimized with it and which competing concepts are put forward (such as the French concept of „strategic autonomy“). Six papers in the second block dealt with questions of „geopoliticized digital policies“ on the basis of non-European case studies: For example, one paper discussed how ideas of fragmentation of the digital world have (also) found their way into U.S. politics under the Trump administration. Three presentations provided insights into the policy of a „sovereign Internet“ pursued by the Russian government. Questions of legal and political regulation of the „data sphere“ were the focus of the third block: For example, the question of the conception and organization of data as property was fundamentally discussed from an ethical perspective. One focus was on questions about the tensions between digital networking and the territorial constitution of jurisdiction and political processes. The upheavals of the Covid 19 crisis are currently being discussed by many observers as an accelerator or even a breakthrough of the digital transformation: Against this background, two contributions explicitly addressed questions of digital sovereignty in the context of the pandemic. Using examples of the so-called „Corona apps“, they were able to show how questions of „sovereignty“ understood as the ability to act can be observed here in the relationship between governments and public administrations, individual users and large digital platforms, as if under a burning glass. The event was concluded by two contributions that showed that digital sovereignty, especially in Germany, is often linked with the idea of individual and organizational competencies – with ideal concepts of a digital society.

The exchange, which was judged to be extremely profitable by the participants, is to be continued with funding from the German-French University in 2021, first digitally and then hopefully in the summer of 2021 at a „real“ workshop in Paris. Joint publications are in preparation.