Polanyi and List Meet in Brussels: Digital Sovereignty and the Future of EU Digital Policymaking
In recent years, digital sovereignty has become the talk of the town in Brussels. In one way or another, the idea that Europe needs to become digitally sovereign has been embraced by most everyone of importance in Europe, from Angela Merkel to Emanuel Macron, and from Thierry Breton to Margrethe Vestager. However, digital sovereignty remains ill-defined in both the literature and real-world discourse. This raises the question why such an ambiguous term has had such a discursive success story. In this paper, we address these debates by arguing that the notion of digital sovereignty is an expression of but also serves to build discursive bridges between two different countermovements against the predominantly neoliberal status quo of digitalization and digital policymaking. A first, Polanyian version of digital sovereignty is about wresting back control over the design of digital markets from private platforms (Cioffi, Kenney, and Zysman 2022; Staab, Piétron, and Sieron 2022). A second, Listian version of digital sovereignty is less about (re-)politicizing digital market design than about geopoliticizing digital policymaking in a world in which technology and geopolitics increasingly intersect (Helleiner 2021). Using a variety of both quantitative and qualitative methods of case study reserach, we trace how this double countermovement has affected the EU’s recent turn towards more socially-oriented and neo-mercantilist forms of digital policymaking. Given the EU’s global clout (Bradford 2020), understanding these developments is crucial for understanding the future trajectory of knowledge societies and economies in a world that is rapidly digitalizing and increasingly geopolitical.
Timo Seidl is a post-doc at the University of Vienna’s Centre for European Integration Research. He holds a PhD from the European University Institute with a thesis on the comparative political economy of digital capitalism. In his research, Timo looks at how ideas and institutions as well as politics and power shape the digital transformation of economies and societies, with a particular focus on the role of the European Union.
The event is part of the Seminar Series “Platform Politics and Policy”.
Researchers from outside the WZB who would like to attend may email the organizer, robert.gorwa [at] wzb.eu, to be put onto the seminar series mailing list.