Digital Brussels proposal faces opposition

Around 400 people in Brussels have protested against a proposal called ‘Digital Brussels,’ which aims to make administrative services fully available online.

Central square in Brussels city

Protesters in Brussels have voiced their opposition to the Digital Brussels proposal, which aims to make administrative services fully available online. Around 400 people staged their fifth protest this year, chanting and holding banners with slogans such as ‘Stop the digital,’ ‘People, not machines,’ and ‘We are not robots.’ Trade associations, social services, and the union sector have criticised the proposal, arguing that it would exacerbate the digital divide and increase social inequality.

The main concern raised by the protesters is that moving public services online would create challenges for those who lack digital skills or access to computers. Approximately 40 percent of adults in Brussels do not possess the necessary digital skills to access online services. The protesters contend that the proposal does not guarantee the accessibility of physical counters and telephone lines, vital for individuals unable to use digital platforms.

In response to the criticisms, the spokesperson for Bernard Clerfayt, the digital transition minister, stated that Digital Brussels aims to enable all necessary administrative tasks to be completed online and includes provisions for alternative options to accommodate those who cannot utilize digital platforms. Brussels already offers 84 percent of administrative procedures online, surpassing the EU average of 75 percent.

Why does it matter?

The ongoing debate surrounding the Digital Brussels proposal centers on balancing digitisation and accessibility in administrative services. The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted concerns about the accessibility of public services. Closure of physical access points and overwhelmed phone lines have made it difficult for citizens to access services. Social workers have been overwhelmed by citizen inquiries, and some services require a QR code for access, excluding those without smartphones. The protests serve as a reminder of the concerns raised by various sectors regarding the potential impact of the proposed digital transition on social inequality.