Sigmar Gabriel : Political consequences of the Google debate

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Who should protect the law?

Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, has quite rightly called on politicians to take up the fight: Either we defend our freedom and change our policies, or we become digitally hypnotised subjects of a digital rulership. The astonishing effect of this appeal can be seen in contributions to this newspaper by Juli Zeh, Evgeny Morozov, Shoshana Zuboff, by Internet avantgardists such as Sascha Lobo and Jaron Lanier. Even the prominent publisher, Mathias Döpfner, has admitted with unprecedented frankness that he is afraid of Google.

So what do we do now? Citizens’ increasing impatience is becoming apparent in questions to European politicians: What are you, the people we have elected, doing to protect the freedom of Europe’s citizens and assert the fundamental rights of the analogue world in this digital age? If you don’t succeed, who will? Who decides what rules we are to abide by? Who should protect the law? This important decision needs to be anchored in the European political agenda, and that is exactly what Martin Schulz has done. It must be included in political discussions about Europe’s future and its tasks, for this problem can no longer be solved purely on a national basis. There are a lot of reasons for voting in the European Parliamentary elections on 25th May, but this is undoubtedly one of the most important.

Only the European Union has the power required to change the political course and rewrite the rules. The European Parliament and the Commission can take a lead in democracy’s battle to assert its rights. Europe can use the sheer size of its market to defy what Mathias Döpfner calls brutal “information capitalism” and whose structure is dominated by a handful of American Internet corporations which, in the form of global trusts, might soon control not only the economic activities of the 21st century.

European politics faced with a challenge

Europe symbolises just the opposite of the totalitarian idea of turning every detail of human behaviour, human emotion and human thought into an object of capitalistic marketing strategies. The dignity of a human being includes, above all, his or her right of self-determination, also and especially in respect of personal data. Europe’s idea of a market economy is not “cut-throat competition” in which the unlimited market power of one dominant party is able to prescribe the terms and conditions for everyone else wishing to participate in the markets.

This poses a challenge to European politics and the task at hand is clearly defined: Any company wishing to enter the European market and make money here has to abide by our “house rules” and submit to our democratically legitimised regulations. Led by a clear political will, the European Commission can establish a new order for the digital data economy, creating data security and data autonomy for the whole of Europe and the people living here and, in this way, restore equality and fairness of competition.

Not only Germany, but all other partners wishing to resist the dictates of Internet monopolists have a strong interest in a Europe that acts collectively. This is the only way to avoid the individual member states being pitched against each other – with ever new loopholes, undercutting of taxation and data security rules. European solidarity is a major power factor in this respect.

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