3rd Europe-Australia 1.5 track Cybersecurity Dialogue - Part 3 (this is only available in English)

von Katja Theodorakis

Dialogue on Emerging Tech: Issues of Digital Autonomy for Australia and Europe

The annual KAS Australia-Europe 1.5 track Cybersecurity Dialogue, this year already in its third iteration, aims to bring together senior government representatives, policy makers, academic experts, practitioners and members of the diplomatic corps to share their views, develop better understandings and explore how cooperation could be strengthened. Usually, this is achieved through a combination of roundtables, an in-depth seminar and meetings at various relevant institutions and ministries, as well as the respective federal, state and EU Parliaments – alternating between Canberra/Sydney and Berlin/Brussels as locations.

This year’s dialogue took place in a slightly altered, virtual format – the overarching theme of ‘Cybersecurity in Crisis Times- A Way Forward for Europe and Australia’ was addressed through three separate interactive discussion sessions with speakers from Europe and Australia.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted not only the interconnectedness of the world but also the associated vulnerabilities. Even before, it has been argued that greater cooperation and multilateral engagement are necessary on a broader geopolitical level. This has been especially important for Europe, whose identity is founded in a vision of cooperation and openness, as highlighted by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.


Multilateralism is seen as the only way forward:


“Effective collective action can meet the risks of disease, climate change, cyber-attacks, nuclear proliferation, and terrorism. No single country on its own can make itself secure; unilateralism is not a serious policy path. This is what global governance (not government) is all about. The form of the arrangements can and should be tailored to the threat and to those willing and able to cooperate, but there is no viable alternative to multilateralism.”

Deglobalization and Its Discontents by Richard N. Haass


This requires us to look at how we manage global interdependence, particularly in the area of cyberspace, as a politically contested space shaped by hyper-connectivity and lack of overarching global governance. The topic for the entire dialogue/discussion series hence centred around multilateral and multi-stakeholder engagement and the potential for increasing cooperation as the COVID-19 pandemic has widened the attack surface for cyber operations. While this first discussion in the series focused on global cyber norms, subsequent sessions were respectively dedicated to joint responses to large-scale cyber incidents and the EU’s toolkit  as well as a discussion on emerging technologies and issues of Digital Autonomy for Australia and Europe


We were supported in the conceptualisation and organization by three experts from the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung – a Berlin think tank at the intersection of technology and society: Julia Schuetze, Alexandra Paulus and Kate Saslow who chaired these sessions

This event was held under Chatham House Rule (not open to the public). Experts were invited to these discussions as part of a selected group to allow for the opportunity to actively engage and share insights.


Session 3:


In regards to emerging technologies, the European Union and Australia both face common challenges in a hyper-connected, yet increasingly contested world where global networks are being leveraged for strategic advantage.  As digital technologies and strategic objectives are becoming increasingly intertwined amidst heightened geopolitical competition, achieving digital sovereignty (or autonomy) has become a key objective. In this regard, the Covid-19 pandemic has only highlighted the vulnerabilities inherent in global interdependencies and intensified existing debates about greater resilience, autonomy and various forms of digital decoupling.

While both countries/regions are well-placed to access leading research and development, technological independence remains a particular challenge for the EU as well as for Australia (and its role in the Asia-Pacific). This includes issues related to some of the core innovations of the fourth industrial revolution, such as artificial intelligence; robotics/autonomous weapons; quantum or cryptographic technologies; (global) digital supply chains; the integration of such advanced technologies in smart city infrastructure; takeovers of high-tech companies in sensitive/strategically consequential sectors.

This session addressed the most important aspects of emerging technologies for either region and how these affect their respective notions of digital sovereignty. Issues that were discussed amongst leading experts ran along the following lines of inquiry:

What exactly does digital sovereignty or autonomy mean for the European Union and for Australia? Do the two regions face similar challenges? 

Are there critical thresholds for determining what constitutes technological dependence, ie what technologies can be imported?

How is the increasingly global footprint of Chinese assertions to ‘cyber sovereignty’ affecting this?  In conjunction with the impact of the networked diffusion of power in digital politics? 

What governance/regulatory structures need to be in place to effectively respond to these challenges?

Is there space or opportunity for greater strategic (research/regulatory) cooperation, also through international/regional fora and taskforces such as eg the nascent Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI)?


Input Speakers from the European and Australian side were:


Dr Samantha Hoffman, ASPI -Analyst on China's tech enhanced authoritarianism


Prof Lesley Seebeck, Prof of Cybersecurity Practice and CEO of the Cyberinstitute at the Australian National University.


Dr Stephenie Andal, Head of Strategic Policy, Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre


Kaan Sahin   - Research Fellow for Technology and Foreign Policy, German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and EU Council Strategic Advisor for Cyber Diplomacy/EU Presidency at Germany’s Federal Foreign Office


Dr Ulrike Franke, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)



Katja Theodorakis