Europe’s quest for ‘digital sovereignty’: Exploring EU in the global tech race

Course content

Since the creation of the von der Leyen Commission in 2019, digital sovereignty has become a buzzword feeding into the European tech agenda, shaping EU digital policy decisions, and legitimizing new legislative proposals of tech policy issues ranging from competition to content moderation, cybersecurity, privacy, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Nevertheless, digital sovereignty remains a multifaceted and contested concept. In this course, the students will learn about the different meanings of the concept: theoretically, by exploring a wide range of literature within the intersection between International Relations (IR), EU studies, and tech policy; and empirically, through case studies and insights from practitioners.

The students will theoretically gain knowledge of how digital sovereignty challenges the traditional territorial understanding of sovereignty and state-centric ideas of international order leading to a discussion of what happens when the digital meets the IR concept sovereignty. Throughout the course, we will examine the state-like power of big tech corporations and the geopolitical implications of their ability to provide security, welfare, and sovereignty. The students will analyze the policymaking process of several cases of tech legislation delving into the role of the EU institutions, tech corporations and civil society organizations in the global tech debate. The students will assess the content of tech legislation uncovering EU’s claims to digital sovereignty and explore EU’s position in the global tech race with the United States (US) and China. Examples of cases of tech legislation could include the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), AI Act (AIA), Data Act, the Cyber Resilience Act, the Digital Markets Act (DMA), Digital Services Act (DSA) or the Chips Act.

The course consists of three pillars. First, exploring the traditional understanding of sovereignty and assessing how the digital age reframes the role of state, borders, and territory. Second, uncovering the concept of digital sovereignty in EU policymaking by delving into the policymaking process of specific legislative proposals. This part will be supported by practical insights from both the public and private sector working with the European tech agenda. Third, contextualizing Europe’s approach to tech regulation in contrast to the US and China.

An essential element of this course is gaining insights from practitioners working with the European tech agenda representing either public or private entities both inside and outside of the EU institutions. Furthermore, the teaching will be research-based and include lectures from academics at the Department of Political Science.


Full-degree students enrolled at the Department of Political Science, UCPH

MSc in Political Science

MSc in Social Science

MSc in Security Risk Management

Bachelor in Political Science


Full-degree students enrolled at the Faculty of Social Science, UCPH

MSc in Social Data Science


The course is open to:

Exchange and Guest students from abroad

Learning outcome


By the end of this course, the successful student will have gained a deeper knowledge of:

  • The theoretical challenges rising when the term ‘digital’ meets the IR concept ‘sovereignty’
  • The multifaceted and contested meanings of ‘digital sovereignty’ as presented, discussed, and negotiated by the EU institutions, tech corporations, and civil society organizations 
  • The formal and informal sites for negotiation tech legislation in EU policymaking gaining insights from practitioners working inside or outside the EU institutions
  • EU’s self-understanding of ‘digital sovereignty’ and position in the global tech race with US and China



Trained their skills of: 

  • Evaluating the state-like power of big tech corporations and assessing the geopolitical implications of their role in cyberspace
  • Analyzing EU’s claims to digital sovereignty by going into depth with specific cases of digital policy and tech legislation such as GDPR, DSA, DMA, and AI Act.
  • Reflecting on EU’s approach to becoming a global tech regulator and assessing Europe’s position in the global tech race with the US and China



And be able to:

  • Discuss the multifaceted and contested meanings of ‘digital sovereignty’ from a theoretical and empirical perspective
  • Analyze EU’s approach to tech regulation by examining the policymaking process of specific legislative proposals and the role of the EU institutions, tech corporations and civil society organizations
  • Uncovering EU’s claims to digital sovereignty by analyzing the motivating factors, content, and implications of tech policy initiatives proposed, adopted and implemented by the EU
  • Engage competently in both academic, policy and practitioner debates on the European tech agenda

The structure of the teaching will be a combination of lecture presentations, student activities and guest lectures from practitioners. Each class will start with a short presentation by the lecturer, introducing today’s topic creating the basis for student engagement and discussion, concluding the class with a summary, Q&A, and information about next week’s class.

The student activities will vary from class to class but will include Padlet, short discussions in pairs or in small groups, non-stop writing exercises, and group presentations on cases of digital policy and tech legislation. The final decision on student activities will be based on what exercises will best prepare the students for both the midterm and final exam. The students will work with official documents from the European Commission, Parliament, and Council to better understand the complexity of the EU policymaking process and content of cases of digital policy and tech legislation.

Tentative reading list: (The final syllabus will be published two weeks to a month before the beginning of the course)


Adler-Nissen, R., & Eggeling, K. A. The Discursive Struggle for Digital Sovereignty: Security, Economy, Rights, and the Cloud Project Gaia-X. Journal of Common Market Studies


Agnew, J. (1994) ‘The territorial trap: The geographical assumptions of international relations theory’. Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 53-80


Autolitano, S. (2023). Why the EU should stop talking about Digital Sovereignty. Council on Foreign Relations. Access here: Why the EU Should Stop Talking About Digital Sovereignty | Council on Foreign Relations (


Baur, A. (2023) ‘European Dreams of the Cloud: Imagining Innovation and Political Control’. Geopolitics, pp. 1–25.


Bellamy, R. (ed) (2006) ‘Sovereignty, post-sovereignty and pre-sovereignty: three models of the state, democracy and rights within the EU’. In Constitutionalism and Democracy (London: Routledge), pp. 547-570


Bellanova, R., Carrapico, H., and Duez, D. (2022). ’Digital/sovereignty and European security integration: an introduction’. European Security, Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 337-355

Bendiek, A., & Stürzer, I. (2022). Advancing European internal and external digital sovereignty: the Brussels effect and the EU-US Trade and Technology Council. (SWP Comment, 20/2022). Berlin: Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik -SWPDeutsches Institut für Internationale Politik und Sicherheit.


Blancato, F. G. (2023). The cloud sovereignty nexus: How the European Union seeks to reverse strategic dependencies in its digital ecosystem. Policy & Internet, 1–21.


Bradford, A. (2020) The Brussels Effect: How the European Union Rules the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press), chapter 2, pp. 25– 66


Bradford, Anu (2023). ‘Introduction’ in ‘Digital Empires: Global Battle to Regulate Technology’. Oxford University Press. pp. 1 – 29.


Bradford, Anu (2023). ‘The European rights driven model’ in ‘Digital Empires: Global Battle to Regulate Technology’. Oxford University Press. pp. 105 – 145


Bradford, Anu (2023), 'The Battle for Technological Supremacy: The US–China Tech War' in Digital Empires: The Global Battle to Regulate Technology (New York, 2023; online edn, Oxford Academic, 28 Sept. 2023), pp. 183-220


Bremmer, I. (2021) ‘The Technopolar Moment: How Digital Powers Will Reshape the Global Order’. Foreign Affairs. Available at: «».


Broeders et al. (2023). "In Search of Digital Sovereignty and Strategic Autonomy: Normative Power Europe to the Test of Its Geopolitical Ambitions," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 61(5), pages 1261-1280, September.


Burwell F.G. & Propp K. (2020) ‘The European Union and the Search for Digital Sovereignty: Building ‘Fortress Europe’ or preparing for a new world?’ Issue brief Atlantic Council. Access here: The-European-Union-and-the-Search-for-Digital-Sovereignty-Building-Fortress-Europe-or-Preparing-for-a-New-World.pdf ( pp. 1-16.


Celeste, E. (2021) ‘Digital Sovereignty in the EU: Challenges and Future Perspectives’. In Fabbrini, F., Celeste, E. and Quinn, J. (eds) Data Protection Beyond Borders: Transatlantic Perspectives on Extraterritoriality and Sovereignty (Oxford: Hart Publishing), pp. 211-228.


Confessore, N. (2018). Big Tech’s War on Privacy. New York Times Magazine, 28-6.


Corporate Europe Observatory (2023). ‘Lobbying power of Amazon, Google and Co. continues to grow. Big Tech spends 113 million euros per year on lobbying in Brussels 08.09.2023. Access here: Lobbying power of Amazon, Google and Co. continues to grow | Corporate Europe Observatory


Couture, S. and Toupin, S. (2019) ‘What Does the Notion of “Sovereignty” Mean When Referring to the Digital?’ New Media & Society, Vol. 21, No. 10, pp. 2305-2322

Csernatoni, R. (2021) The EU’s Rise as a Defense Technological Power: From Strategic Autonomy to Technological Sovereignty. Carnegie Europe. Access here:


Daniel W. Drezner, ‘Technological Change and International Relations’, International Relations, 33(2), 2019, pp. 286–303.


Eichensehr, K. E. (2016) ‘Data extraterritoriality’. Texas Law Review. Vol. 95, pp. 145- 160


Erlanger S. & Satariano, A. (2020). Europe Feels Squeeze as Tech Competition Heats Up Between U.S. and China. New York Times. Access here: Europe Feels Squeeze as Tech Competition Heats Up Between U.S. and China - The New York Times (


EU Council (2022). EU digital diplomacy. Access here: EU digital diplomacy: Council agrees a more concerted European approach to the challenges posed by new digital technologies - Consilium (, pp. 1-13


EU DSA (2020). Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a single market for digital services (Digital Services Act) and amending Directive 2000/31/EC, version of 15 December 2020 subject to ordinary procedure. Access here: EUR-Lex - 52020PC0825 - EN - EUR-Lex (, pp. 1-8


Fairbank, N. A. (2019) ‘The State of Microsoft? The Role of Corporations in International Norm Creation’. Journal of Cyber Policy, Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 380–403.


Faludi, A. (2016) ‘EU territorial cohesion a contradiction in terms’. Planning Theory & Practice, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 302-313.


Feldstein, Steven (2023) Evaluating Europe's push to enact AI regulations: how will this influence global norms?, Democratization, DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2023.2196068 pp. 1 – 18


Floridi, L. (2020) ‘The Fight for Digital Sovereignty: What It Is, and Why It Matters, especially for the EU’. Philosophy & Technology, Vol. 33, pp. 369–378.


Forbes (2021). How Does China’s Approach To AI Regulation Differ From The US And EU? (2021). Forbes. Access here: How Does China’s Approach To AI Regulation Differ From The US And EU? (


Giddens, A (2020) ‘Foreword’, In Europe’s Digital Sovereignty, Hobbs, C. (ed). ECFR. Available here: Europe’s digital sovereignty: From rulemaker to superpower in the age of US-China rivalry | ECFR


Goujard, C., & Cerulus, L. (2021). Inside Gaia‐X: How chaos and infighting are killing Europe's grand cloud project. Politico. Access here:

Goujard C. (2023). ‘Europe’s online content law has teeth — now it has to bite. Politico. Access here: Europe’s online content law has teeth — now it has to bite – POLITICO

Henshall, W (2023). E.U.’s AI Regulation Could Be Softened After Pushback From Biggest Members. Time. Access here: E.U.'s AI Regulation Could Be Softened After Pushback | TIME


James, A. (1999) ‘The practice of sovereign statehood in contemporary international society’ Political Studies, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 457-473


Lambach, D. (2020) ‘The Territorialization of Cyberspace’, International Studies Review, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 482–506.


Lambach, D., and Oppermann, K. (2022) ‘Narratives of digital sovereignty in German political discourse’. Governance, 36:693–709.


Lewis, James A. (2010). “Sovereignty and the Role of Government in Cyberspace”, Brown Journal of World Affairs, 16(2): 55-65


Li, S., Schütte, B. & Sankari, S. (2023). The ongoing AI-regulation debate in the EU and its influence on the emerging economies: a new case for the ‘Brussels effect’? in Elgar Companion to Regulating AI and Big Data in Emerging Economies by Findlay et al. (2023). Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 22-42.


Lilkov, D. (2021). Regulating artificial intelligence in the EU: A risky game. European View, 20(2), 166-174.


MacCarthy, M. (2023). The US and its allies should engage with China on AI law and policy. Brookings. Access here: The US and its allies should engage with China on AI law and policy | Brookings


MacCarthy, Mark & Propp Kenneth, (2021). Machines Learn That Brussels Writes the Rules: The EU’s New AI Regulation,, April 29th, 2021, access here:


Mainwaring, S. (2020) ‘Always in control? Sovereign states in cyberspace’. European Journal of International Security, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 215-232


M. Bank, F. Duffy, V. Leyendecker and M. Silva (2021). ‘The Lobby Network: Big Tech’s Web of Influence in the EU’. Corporate Europe Observatory and Lobby Control. Pp. 5 – 26. Access here: The lobby network - Big Tech's web of influence in the EU.pdf (

Basic knowledge of International Relations and general understanding of the EU policymaking process including the role of the EU institutions

Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Type of assessment details
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Free written assignment

- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assessment

Criteria for exam assessment:

Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings

Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings

Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 28
  • Preparation
  • 78
  • Project work
  • 100
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester


Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
  • Social Data Science
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Matilde Bro Hansen   (4-71666c65446d6a77326f7932686f)
+45 35 32 67 99
Saved on the 30-04-2024

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