State of the Union Conference

As shared in a previous news, the European University Institute organized the 10th-anniversary edition of The State of the Union (SOU) summit.

EUI President, Renaud Dehousse, introduced the event reminding of the global nature of Europe’s challenges, such as Covid-19 and Climate change.

In light of the above, President Dehousse stated, “Europe has to decide on what kind of global player it wants to be” and handed over the floor to the President of the European Commission.

President Ursula von der Leyen focused on the pandemic and the climate challenges as the starting points to shape a new beginning for Europe. 

Indeed, the President of the Commission represented as Europe did and will continue to manage Covid-19 and how climate change is an actual and present crisis that obliges Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent in 2050.

The central points that should guide Europe, following the introductory conference, are cooperation, renaissance and, the Don Milani motto, “I Care”.

The two-days programme was distinguished by stimulating discussions led by notable speakers from all over the world and concerned topical issues of Artificial IntelligenceClimateGeopoliticsGlobal EconomicMultilateralismPeace and Human Rights Public HealthStrategic Autonomy.

Notwithstanding the importance and inputs provided in all the discussions led by the leading figures involved, it is possible to find below short focuses on some specific panels. 

However, the video recordings of all the sessions are available here, divided into the three channels of transmission.

On the panel “How to marry the EU’s climate ambition with its preference for open marketsJos Delbeke introduced the discussion representing as climate issues are emerging clearly in the EU debate.

Vangelis Vitalis pointed out the need for better regulation that drives standards and environmental improvement, having to be more imaginative and understanding that, unfortunately, while talking about Climate change certainty is the word that describes the matter.

Switching to the Multilateralism issue, Economics Professor Giacomo Calzolari introduced the “The Global battle over data” panel by representing as “data are essential elements in our modern economies and societies and have been assimilated to a new type of oil”.

Commissioner Vestager stated that data is a renewable resource that can be shared and reused: “we harvest data all the time, and with it we can innovate more”, and she displayed as Europe should not be underestimated in such a context.

The Executive Vice-President highlighted as democracy and trust have to catch up with technology, and regulating does not stifle investments but supports it by providing transparency and even playing field. 

Entering the Artificial Intelligence topic, on the “Development: competitive innovation in human-centric AI” panel the focus was on the ability of the new Proposal to be able to guarantee a competitive European innovation. This, while the U.S. and China strive to maintain a competitive advantage in global AI leadership.

The panel started with an interesting question addressed to the audience, being “To what extent do you think regulators should prioritize strict AI regulation over leaving space for innovation?” with the “partially prioritize regulation” as the chosen option while the others were “prioritize regulation”, “partially prioritize innovation” and “prioritize innovation”.

Various were the inputs provided by the panellists. For example, Dominik Bosl focused on the need to not over-regulating.

Joanna Bryson on the need to regulate proportionally since data is based on the world and, given the fact that the world is not perfect, problems as discrimination should be fixed in society before of in algorithms.

Moreover, Andrea Renda focused on the process that led to a much more reasonable proposal framework compared to the first EU Parliament resolution. He also stated as a risk-based approach has to be made as a continuum and regulatory sandboxes can stimulate innovation.

Continuing with AI, the “Deployment: Fundamental rights and biases in AI” panellists put forward crucial reflections on the matter.

For example,  Sandra Wachter mentioned the issue of what kind of definition of fairness should be applied to the bias of the algorithms.

Maduro Poiares focused on the doubts of the quality and capacity of the Institutions to balance between fundamental rights and innovation and on the assessment of the use of AI. Besides, he mentioned the poor clarity on the guaranteed level of independence of the Institutions.

Urs Gasser highlighted as, while focus on risk and risk management is needed, trust is the central point. Having doubts on the achievement of global standards of AI regulation, Prof. Gasser concluded the session stating that “much depends on if we are able to build a culture around responsible, trustworthy AI. Regulation can enable that, which is what I find exciting about the Commission’s action”.

An easily enjoyable panel was the “Regulating the global digital economy: what role for international cooperation?” one. 

Prof. Giacomo Calzolari stated as there is general consensus that the tools from competition policy that intervenes ex posts in the markets have too small, too late and not effective results. This is why Europe is discussing new regulations and new approaches for digital markets. Prof. Calzolari highlighted the need to explore how and to what extent the new regulations will provide a better regulation of the global digital economy.

For example, Cristina Caffarra displayed the need to be precise while regulating since general principles can not be applied to different business models. Moreover, she focused on the weird and persistent habit of watching at market power and data protection as separate issues while they are interrelated. Caffarra thinks that these topics should be discussed together with experimentation being the leading word.

On the matter, Marietje Schaake highlighted as regulating is not an outcome but a process and displayed as Countries should cooperate in a tech-governance model that puts the public interest first.


The last panel on “Is Europe failing behind in the Global Digital Economy” was sharp and engaging. 

Bengt Holmström highlighted that Europe had been focusing too much on privacy and regulation, rather than innovation. 

Moreover, the Nobel Prize Professor added that Europe still has some headwind, but it is choosing to focus more on regulation, and it should not expect the U.S. and certainly not China to follow.

In addition, Holmström mentioned that giving ownership of data to individuals makes development very slow.

The two-days event closing remarks were entrusted to the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi di Maio. He displayed as Europe remains a community that has to support democracy and Rule of Law, while at the same time it must regain trust and sense of citizenship in its people.

(Luca Megale)