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From Tallinn to Berlin: five novelties in the new Declaration on Digital Society

Co-VAL > Blog > Uncategorized > From Tallinn to Berlin: five novelties in the new Declaration on Digital Society

By Johanna Barton and Francesco Mureddu, respectively project manager and research associate and director at the Lisbon Council, a leading Brussels-based think tank and partner of the Co-VAL project.


On the 8th of December 2020, the digital ministers from all 27 Member States of the European Union signed the Berlin Declaration on Digital Society. Three years after adopting the Tallinn declaration, Member States and associate countries put forward a new shared agenda for digital government that looks beyond the state of play and recognizes the central role of digital transformation in the EU’s response to COVID-19.

But the Berlin declaration is more than a simple renewal of old commitments. It is a major and renewed approach to digital services that puts citizens at the centre. Indeed, the Berlin declaration has a much wider scope than the Tallinn declaration (2017) and introduces five novelties – not a radical departure, but certainly a different emphasis in comparison to its predecessor:

  1. It includes a new focus on fundamental rights and democratic values – in line with the recent European focus on the rule of law;
  2. It places co-creation of public services enabled by digital literacy at the centre of public sector innovation;
  3. It reinforces the link between sovereignty and interoperability, making it clear that the latter is the fundamental enabler of the former in order to better serve citizens. To this end, it points to the role of the new data spaces;
  4. It reiterates the importance of ensuring accountability for machine learning in public decision making, already present in the General Protection Data Regulation;
  5. With regards to the COVID-19 pandemic and environmental sustainability, it squarely places digital government at the service of creating a more resilient and sustainable digital society. 

The element of continuity is represented by the strong focus on security through trustworthy IDs, and the once only principle. The table below provides a more exhaustive summary of what is new.

This fresh, human centric approach is certainly a welcome recognition of the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, which we have already discussed in a previous blog entry. This welcome broadening of the scope, however, comes with a dilution of the strength of the commitments. In fact the language is less actionable and the commitments are looser than in the Tallinn declaration: this is perhaps inevitable due to the broadening of the ambition. 

But regardless of the wording, a declaration remains a statement of intent, a foundation for action. No declaration will ever resolve the issues at hand. To do that, we need not only a more detailed action plan, such as the forthcoming digital government action plan by the European Commission. Most importantly, we need to mobilize the whole community against concrete goals, and we need to learn from those who already apply this human centric approach.

This is precisely what the Co-VAL project will strive to do in these final months, starting from the online Town Hall meeting this Friday, 11 December 2020 at 12h00. Convened in the immediate aftermath of the signing of the Berlin Declaration on Digital Society, this highly interactive Virtual Town Hall Meeting will bring together high-level decision makers and experts to share their experience in applying co-creation techniques to public services and designing policies to support it. Eileen Fuchs, head of division for digital policy, European Union and international affairs at the federal ministry of the interior for building and community in Germany, will kick off the discussion illustrating the key messages of the Berlin Declaration on Digital Society. Jonas Slørdahl Skjærpe, chief information officer at the Labour and Welfare Service (Norway), and Maria Taivalsaari Røhnebæk, senior researcher in the Co-VAL project and fellow at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences (INN), will discuss how co-creation has helped building more effective welfare services for Norwegian citizens. Francesco Paolo Schiavo, director of the ministry of economy and finance of Italy, will present how an experience lab for human-resource services set up in his ministry is improving the services to two million Italian civil servants. The results will feed into the upcoming European digital government action plan.

In order to participate in the virtual meeting please register by sending a request to with “Human-Centric Government” in the subject heading.

Principles and respective Policy Action Areas in the Berlin Declaration on Digital Society and Value-Based Digital Government (2020) What is new in comparison to the Tallinn Declaration on eGovernment (2017)?
  • Validity and respect of fundamental rights and democratic values 

a) Promote fundamental rights and democratic values in the digital sphere

  • Difference: different use of/ interpretation of the term “fundamental rights”
    • Tallinn declaration focuses on rights of citizens specifically related to eGovernment (e.g. freedom of expression, privacy, and right to the protection of personal data) 
    • Berlin declaration focuses on human rights in general and their application in the digital sphere (rule of law, concern for human dignity, right to autonomy, and shared ethical values)
  • New: Focus on the protection of democratic values and efforts to ensure that the public opinion-forming and democratic decision-making processes are not manipulated by improper or malicious use of new technologies
  • Social participation and digital inclusion to shape the digital world

b) Enhance social participation and inclusion

  • Citizen engagement in relation to digital public services is mentioned in the Annex of the Tallinn declaration as one of the user-centricity principles 
  • New: Strong focus on involving society in the design of public services through co-creation, experimentation and collaboration
  • Empowerment and digital literacy

c) Foster digital empowerment and digital literacy

  • New: Stronger focus on Digital literacy
    • This topic is only briefly mentioned in the Tallinn declaration  
    • Berlin declaration wants to strengthen the development and push for actual use of digital skills
    • Berlin declaration wants to empower citizens to manage their digital identity and to protect their personal data and privacy online
  • Trust and security in digital government interactions

d) Strengthen trust through security in the digital sphere

  • Not a lot of new content in the Berlin declaration
  • Both declarations stress the need for a European trustworthy and notified eID 
  • In terms of cybersecurity, both declarations refer to the NIS directive and existing structures like the NIS collaboration group 
  • Digital sovereignty and interoperability

e) Strengthen Europe’s digital sovereignty and interoperability

  • New: Digital sovereignty 
    • Digital sovereignty refers to Europe’s ability to act independently in the digital world and should be understood in terms of both protective mechanisms and offensive tools to foster digital innovation
    • New concepts mentioned: Gov-Tec cooperation and creation of data-spaces
    • In terms of interoperability there is not a lot of striking new content
    • Still important are the once-only principle and cross-border services
  • New: Calling for the implementation of the Directive on Open Data and the Re-Use of Public Sector Information ((EU) 2019/1024)
  • Human-centred systems and innovative technologies in the public sector

f) Create value-based, human-centred AI systems for use in the public sector

  • New: human-centred, responsible and common-good oriented development and use of AI and other novel technologies in the public sector
    • Comparison: the word “human” is not mentioned in the Tallinn declaration
  • Towards a resilient and sustainable digital society

g) Foster resilience and sustainability

  • New: How the world and society can benefit from digitalisation
    • Focus on how digital government can contribute to a more sustainable society, work-culture, health, and environment
    • Reference to Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals
    • Difference: Tallinn declaration had a more technical focus