8 priorities for the Spanish EU Presidency
On 1 July, Spain will take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The times continue to be turbulent, with many challenges still in place for the second half of 2023 – War in Ukraine, cyber threats, and inflation. It is also crunch time for a number of files like the AI and Data Acts that will have a huge impact on the digital decade. Spain must use its Presidency to get the EU back on track to be resilient, connected, and competitive.
Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director-General of DIGITALEUROPE, said:
Spain has put digital at the heart of its economic strategy and is reaping the benefits.
Its leadership will be vital to ensure laws like the AI and Data Acts actually support Europe’s aim to be a digital leader. I also want to see Spain continue its leadership on sandboxing – testing regulations on real-life companies. Together let’s revolutionise the way we do policy!
And on the 30th anniversary of the Single Market, European SMEs still struggle to scale – only 8% trade across one European border. To breed more unicorns we need more Europe, not 27 sets of rules.
Francisco Hortigüela, Director-General of Ametic, said:
AMETIC and the Spanish Digital Industry are looking forward to the Spanish presidency of the European Union. We will contribute to the reinforcement of the European Strategic Autonomy by strengthening the Digital Industry in Europe and Spain, driven by the investment in innovation, industry and digital skills for all.
Cesar Tello, Director-General of Adigital, said:
Spain is standing out as a tech and digital hub. We have a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem and a consolidated digital infrastructure network, that together with appropriate policies, such as the AI regulatory sandbox and the startup law, will lay the foundations for our future progress.
During the Presidency of the Council of the EU we must make the most out of these strengths in order to lead the debate around key files, making sure they will generate more competitiveness, more talent, more inclusion and more prosperity.
Together with Adigital and Ametic, our Spanish national association members, we recommend that the 2023 Spanish Presidency of the European Council should focus on the following eight priorities:
1. One market, one set of rules:
The 30-year-old single market still has varying rules among different countries, pushing smaller companies to leave Europe. Compliance with sustainability rules is also slowing down the green transition due to unnecessary duplications and varying interpretations of rules across member states (both on a national and regional level). Despite some improvements, over 60% of reported barriers have persisted for two decades. Spain should prioritize harmonisation to create a digital market where companies can scale, which may require difficult conversations with other Member States, but has huge potential benefits.
2. Digitalisation: Europe’s key to competitiveness & sustainability
The Net Zero Industry Act and Green Deal Industrial Plan overlooked the potential of digital to reduce emissions, boost efficiency and solve the energy crisis. Enabling regulation is necessary to realise these benefits. Key technology drivers and data-sharing can cut global greenhouse gas emissions by one fifth until 2030, including in the polluting sectors of buildings and construction.
The 20% digital funding target should be mandatory across schemes like RePowerEU and the future Sovereignty Fund, not just the Recovery and Resilience Facility. The Chips Act and Critical Raw Materials Act are crucial for ensuring access to necessary inputs. Europe should seek alliances with countries providing materials for the digital economy, while also reducing regulatory burden, permit times, and encouraging investment. Market access for European companies abroad remains a top priority.
3. Time for the TTC to step up on clean tech and secure supply chains
The EU-US Trade and Technology Council has had some important successes, notably on coordinating export controls in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, there is still work to be done to ensure that the EU and US are fully aligned on our top priorities. Some aspects of the Inflation Reduction Act regarding local content were a bad surprise and we must ensure that this forum can identify these issues before they happen again.
Collaborating on technology standards for clean tech and AI can create business opportunities for innovators like Spain’s Future Unicorn award winner Red Points and help reach climate goals. Adopting global standards, rather than just transatlantic, and aligning on raw materials and critical components like chips is crucial for our respective digital economies.
4. Becoming a global leader in AI innovation
The AI Act will most likely be concluded under the Spanish Presidency. Spain is home to many promising companies working on AI, and the government has taken the initiative, establishing Europe’s first AI National Supervision Agency and leading on the regulatory sandbox. DIGITALEUROPE will also present insights from its regulatory sandbox on 1 June and Adigital is working in the launching of the first certificate of algorithmic transparency.
This regulation will greatly impact Europe’s competitiveness as we strive to keep up with rapidly advancing technology. The final text’s finer details could have significant long-term consequences. For instance, we should narrow the high-risk category’s scope to specific problematic uses rather than the technology itself. To achieve this, we must work together to define and implement guidelines for the AI Act and facilitate better collaboration between regulators and industry for more effective regulation of emerging technologies.
5. Pause and rethink the Data Act
Although all parties have stated their aims to finalise this legislation before the Spanish Presidency takes over, this file remains a huge concern for our members. If Spain oversees final details, we ask for a pause to reconsider certain aspects of such a far-reaching legislation, such as the B2B data-sharing aspect which could put major European companies and employers at risk. Stronger protections for trade secrets and cybersecurity are necessary to avoid unintended consequences.
If signed off before June, implementation will require significant work especially that many European big and smaller companies are not expecting such a complex piece of regulation. We urge the Spanish Presidency to prioritise smooth implementation and consider a Cloud First Policy to achieve a digital, resilient, and competitive single market.
6. Digital Resilience at the heart of Europe’s security
The invasion of Ukraine has shown that public – private cooperation is critical to building Europe’s digital shield. The recently published European Cyber Defence Policy was a historic step forward, but we now need to define the formal links with cyber experts in companies.
Public-private cooperation is crucial for Europe’s digital shield. We need a fast and flexible defence procurement system similar to NATO’s DIANA, and more cyber campuses to address the skills shortage. DIGITALEUROPE members are stepping up to build these together with the public sector.
While the Cybersecurity Resilience Act is a welcome addition to the framework, the Spanish Presidency should ensure that compliance rules are realistic to implement for both businesses and national and authorities.
7. Catching up on connectivity
As the world becomes more digitalised, connectivity becomes even more essential. Spain ranks third in Europe for broadband and 5G coverage and has many lessons to teach other European countries.
We support the aims of the recently published Gigabit Infrastructure Act, aimed at addressing issues with the very high capacity network roll-out in Europe. Rather than resorting to transforming the current internet ecosystem, the priority should be on removing barriers to network deployment. This means reforming the guidelines on broadband state aid rules to unlock investment and adapting the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP) to make spectrum more available. In addition, we call on Member States to use the Recovery and Resilience Funds (RRF) quicker. Given the importance to the wider digital transition, the share devoted to connectivity should also be increased from 3.3%.
8. Creating the conditions for European Tech Champions
The entrepreneurial tech sector is a key driver of economic growth, particularly during uncertain times. Companies with a technological focus, rapid growth, and scalable business models create jobs, competitiveness, and prosperity.
Spain’s Startups Act, the first of its kind in Europe, supports emerging and innovative companies. During the Spanish Presidency, we must continue to advance this ambitious regulatory framework at the European level to compete globally. We need policies that foster the growth of tech companies, attract talent and investment to the startup ecosystem, and enable young companies to scale and become Europe’s next tech leader.