On Tuesday, 9 March 2021, the EU Commission presented its Communication for a digitally empowered Europe. It shall ring in a digital decade and help to implement the EU’s digital agenda targets by 2030.
Digital technologies had been an integral part of our everyday life even before the Covid-19 crisis. However, the subject is particularly topical at present, not least because digital technologies may be a key aspect of an environmental transformation. In September 2020, as part of giving her State of the Union Address, Commission´s President Ursula von der Leyen requested a plan for a digital Europe with goals for 2030 to include connectivity, skills and digital public services. A short time later, in October 2020, the Council adopted Conclusions, in which the Commission was asked to present a Digital Compass by March 2021, which sets out the EU’s concrete digital ambitions for 2030.
Europe’s Digital Compass
By presenting this Communication, the Commission has now complied with this request. The Digital Compass sets out four cardinal points . Among other, the Commission relies on a digitally empowered and skilled population and highly skilled experts. Hence, by 2030 the number of digitally skilled adults for information- and communication technology shall have reached 20 million, whereby the aim is to achieve a gender balanced workforce. Forecasts presume that this number will be necessary to cover the personnel requirement for key areas such as cyber security and data analysis. Apart from that, at least 80 % of EU citizens shall have basic digital skills by 2030. Digital infrastructures shall become more secure and sustainable, with connectivity improved and all populated areas covered by 5G. The Commission also plans to set up 10,000 highly secure and climate neutral edge nodes as well as the development of the first Quantum computer.
By 2030, 75 % of all businesses shall have adopted technologies such as cloud computing services, big data and Artificial Intelligence. By providing appropriate funding, the Commission aims to double the number of start-ups, which are worth in excess of one million euros. At least 90 % of small and medium-sized enterprises shall adopt digital technologies at least at basic level. Finally, key public services shall be fully digitalised and at least 80 % of the population shall have a digital ID by 2030.
In order to improve the filling of gaps regarding critical EU capacities, the Commission also plans to develop multi-country projects. Joint investments from the EU budget, Member States and industry shall be used to advance projects such as a pan-European data processing infrastructure, low power trusted processors as well as interconnected digital public services.
Framework for digital principles
The Executive Vice President for ‘A Europe Fit for the Digital Age', Margrethe Vestager, regards the Communication as the start to an inclusive process, which shall contribute to a prosperous, confident and open Europe that will ensure that everybody benefits from the welfare brought by an inclusive digital society. To achieve this, the Commission plans to create a framework for digital principles, which, among other, guarantees universal access to sufficient digital skills and prevents that people, using digital services, are not discriminated against. In this context, Commissioner Vestager emphasised once again, the same rights that apply offline can be fully exercised online.
However, what is lacking in the Commission Communication is a clarification as to how employees shall be involved in this process. For example, with regard to qualifications of digitally skilled employees as well as the application of Artificial Intelligence, it would be necessary to engage labour representatives. There is no explanation either as to how social partners shall be integrated in work related to achieving the Digital Compass.
The Commission will shortly launch a broad discussion and consultation process to give citizens the opportunity of contributing their ideas regarding the EU’s digital goals and principles. In addition, it has been planned to set up a forum, where all stakeholders can contribute to the Digital Compass.