What Does the Technological Shift Have in Store for the EU? Opportunities and Pitfalls for European Societies

Bakardjieva Engelbrekt A, Leijon K, Michalski A, et al. What Does the Technological Shift Have in Store for the EU? Opportunities and Pitfalls for European Societies The European Union and the Technology Shift. 2021 Feb:1-25.


This introductory chapter sheds light on the opportunities and challenges that the digital era has in store for the European Union (EU) at a time when its fundamental values are being called into question by prominent political currents. The chapter sets the scene by an account of how previous periods of technological transformation affected European societies and considers the financial and regulatory resources at the disposal of the EU to manage the technological shift of the 2020s. The chapter introduces the book’s interdisciplinary approach, which offers various disciplinary perspectives on how the technological mega-shift impacts the EU’s ability to meet the multifaceted challenges it is facing. The chapter concludes that decision-makers at the national as well as European levels must be prepared to take a holistic perspective when addressing technological trends and seeking solutions to the problems that arise in the wake of changing economic and political conditions in society.


The starting point in the book’s first chapter, authored by Lindy M. Newlove-Eriksson and Johan Eriksson, is that the world in the early 2020s is undergoing a technological ‘mega-shift’. This involves a digital interweaving of several different processes, technical systems, infrastructures, organisations and societal functions, and, in some respects, the human body as well. The authors describe how critical infrastructure, artificial intelligence and ‘smart’ homes and cities are becoming increasingly intertwined—not least by way of the new 5G technology—with consequences for security and vulnerability which to a great extent are unexamined. The chapter analyses what this mega-shift means for the EU. Newlove-Eriksson and Eriksson contend that the challenges facing the EU are significant, especially when it comes to maintaining a strategic overview and ensuring responsibility. The EU scarcely lacks, the authors aver, strategies for responding to the technological shift, but its lines of responsibility are unclear. Furthermore, the EU has a tradition of engaging several parallel expert and strategy groups on various technological issues, leading to a lack of coordination.

The authors also describe the EU’s behaviour as stamped by a fundamentally techno-optimistic perspective. This has two unfortunate effects: first, issues of security and vulnerability often fail to attract sufficient attention; and second, conflicts between different interests around technological development are not taken into account. The chapter then reviews three different perspectives on technology and societal change: a techno-optimistic perspective, a pessimistic perspective and a newer perspective that takes into account the complexity and interweaving of technological development and societal change. In the four subsequent sections, the authors analyse more specific challenges that the technological mega-shift poses for the EU’s security: antagonistic threats: the surveillance society; vulnerability and uncontrollability; and private-public organisation and accountability. The authors’ purpose here is to illustrate the wide range of problems associated with security and vulnerability which arise from the mega-shift. Newlove-Eriksson and Eriksson conclude with four recommendations on how, in light of the conclusions of their chapter, the EU can handle the mega-shift: the EU should take a holistic perspective on the mega-shift; it must develop clear lines of responsibility for interwoven systems; it should forswear any deterministic outlook; and it must stop the outsourcing of security-classified activities.


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