14 Sep 2021

[BLOG] The State of the Digital Union

In this op-ed, DIGITALEUROPE’s Director-General Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl outlines four key digital priorities that should be included in this year’s State of the European Union address.

President von der Leyen speaking at DIGITALEUROPE’s Masters of Digital 2021.
By Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director-General, DIGITALEUROPE

When did Europe’s ‘digital moment’ begin? I think it can be traced back to President von der Leyen’s historic speech this time last year.

She launched the Digital Decade strategy, announced plans for a strategy on AI and data, as well as boosting research and innovation, for example in cloud and supercomputers.

For the first time, digital was at the top of Europe’s agenda, and a significant chunk of the EU recovery money was earmarked to boost technology uptake and skills.

2022 will mark the ‘middle year’ of President von der Leyen’s five year term. The focus switches from launching new strategies to putting in place the ones already announced. But it is still a crucial year for our digital development, and we need to keep up the momentum.

What I would like to see in the President’s speech tomorrow

  • Expert advice on whether Europe is reaching its digitalisation targets

As it stands, 18 EU countries have had their recovery plans signed off by the European Commission.

The plans we have seen so far are good, not great. The required 20% has been reached, but the majority has been put towards digitalising public administration. This is a good thing, but we also need to see more money directed to cybersecurity, connectivity, and digitalising the private sector, the main driver of the economy.

Alongside the KPI-led approach, we think the EU and its member states need more hands-on expert advice from business leaders about what works and what doesn’t. A diverse advisory board of Europe’s top innovators would be a great start.

  • A stronger digital Europe, not just member states

There is one element missing from almost all of the national plans – the European dimension. Solution interoperability and scale in digital innovation and investment is crucial to Europe’s digital success. Multi-country projects are essential, and stronger governance of the historic investments are needed.

I am pleased to see a new proposal from the Commission on this today. The EU should tap into existing networks, such as DIGITALEUROPE’s national associations, to deliver on both local and European digital priorities.

  • A renewed push for data spaces, starting in industry and healthcare

Let us make 2022 the year of the data spaces.

Europe has a strong data potential, but it remains untapped. In 2020, the data economy represented only 3 per cent of the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP). We believe that Europe can, and must, grow its data economy to 6 per cent of GDP by 2025. We are sitting on a treasure trove for our businesses, but we lack the ability to take advantage because the data is stuck in different siloes.

From our own experience, the two areas with most short-term potential – and the furthest advanced – are in industry and the healthcare sector. I would like to see a strong statement and a clear timeline for implementation of these initiatives from the President tomorrow.

  • A shift from leadership to partnership

Europe is rightly proud of its pioneering role as a digital regulator. But the truth is that we are also the most well protected continent in the world, and we must not rush so fast that our major trade partners cannot aligned. We need them, and they need us, in order for European companies to be competitive in an international open market economy.

Digital technologies do not recognise borders, and European digital companies make a huge share of their revenues abroad. Almost 90% of global growth is supposed to take place outside of Europe’s borders, so let’s not just focus inwards.

Setting up the Trade and Technology Council with the US was a huge step forward. Tomorrow I hope to see more such initiatives, aimed at bridging the gaps between us and our largest trade partners.

For more information, please contact:
Chris Ruff
Director for Political Outreach & Communications
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