Digital sovereignty – Maintaining technological self-determination in Europe

15.06.2022 | A statement by Prof. Albert Heuberger, Executive Director of Fraunhofer IIS

Whether in the workplace or in everyday life, to combat climate change or to gain resilience: digital technologies offer solutions to the major challenges of our time. The kind of future these solutions lead to depends on the values and goals they focus on. The only way Europe can win is if we follow a resource-saving and trustworthy path; if we guarantee opportunities for collaboration and use our uniqueness as a competitive advantage.

Digital sovereignty refers to an economic area’s ability either to develop for itself digital technologies that are critical for competitiveness and for the state’s ability to act, or to obtain such technologies without unilateral dependence on other economic areas. This is the only way we can also define and bring transparency to how these technologies work, how they handle data, and ultimately how they preserve our freedom.

Boost European chip production

In microelectronics, the chief strengths of Germany and Europe are in design and hetero-integration / advanced packaging, as well as in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), optoelectronics and power electronics. Fraunhofer and the Research Fab Microelectronics provide important impetus along the value chain here, starting with design and extending to prototyping and small-volume production. Industrial manufacturing of highly integrated microchips is extremely dependent on semiconductor fabs in Asia; however, this gap is to be closed by the European Chips Act proposed by the European Commission for 2022, which will attract companies and help them establish and expand in Europe. Around 43 billion euros is to be made available for the production of semiconductors in the EU with the aim of significantly increasing Europe’s share of manufacturing.

Ensure common open technological standards

Another core area of digital sovereignty is open interfaces for communication infrastructures. One current example of this is the OpenRAN initiative, which aims to ensure the interoperability of the radio access network components of future mobile communication standards. Open standards and Fraunhofer’s contributions to internationally relevant standards are central to the exploitation of research results and the technological openness of markets.

In the area of digital infrastructure, there is a particularly strong dependence on hardware components from Asia. In the area of software, however, Europe displays a great deal of innovative strength. Fraunhofer plays a key role here; for example, in the conceptual design and implementation of the European Gaia-X platform. Through abstraction and the definition of open interfaces, Gaia-X allows data and services to be decoupled from cloud infrastructure providers (hyperscalers), thus ensuring innovation and data sovereignty. Such platforms can also serve as an important basis for a voice assistance solution designed to European standards; we are currently developing one with partners.

 Shape the future

Fraunhofer has already identified the research fields with high growth potential, such as AI and quantum computing. When it comes to applications in these areas, the task is now to develop and provide trustworthy architectures, design procedures and manufacturing processes for systems in order to maintain and expand the competitiveness of German and European industry.

Digital sovereignty ultimately means the freedom to (jointly) shape digitalization in various industries. This is of fundamental interest for Germany and Europe. We want our technologies to help enhance society and the economy.


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