Europe’s digital transition - not just technological development but a wider societal shift
Europe’s digital transition: not just technological development but a wider societal shift
The European Commission has declared the 2020’s Europe’s digital decade and attempted to flesh out the concept by publishing a proposal for policy programme “Path to the Digital Decade”. The proposal aims to set targets for Europe’s digital transition by 2030 as well as related monitoring and implementation mechanisms. The proposal is now being discussed by the European Parliament and EU Member States, and a final decision is expected to be reached during next spring.
We at CSC have been following the plans for the digital decade closely and providing the Commission with our views on what should be taken into account in the 2030 target for digitalisation. In our most recent statement we voiced our concern about the limited scope of the targets the Commission is proposing and made some suggestions on how the digital targets could be more closely linked to, for example, the European Strategy for Data, the European Green Deal and the various policies related to education, research and innovation.
What is often overlooked when talking about digitalisation is that it is not only about technology or IT but it is a significantly larger and more overarching issue, a systemic change requiring new kinds of structures, processes, ways of working and rules. Digitalisation can bring a kind of added value that we cannot yet understand. Recognising the various new opportunities requires linking technological understanding more closely with the functioning of the whole society. This must be understood in order for digitalisation to really advance.
No digitalisation without data
The 2030 targets that the Commission is proposing for digitalisation are grouped under the for cardinal points or the Digital Compass that was launched earlier: skills, infrastructures, digital transformation of businesses and digitalisation of public services. What is missing from this list is data which has for some reason been left outside the scope of the policy programme. This is quite a strange choice considering that data is the raw material without which none of the cardinal points of the digital compass can fully benefit from the opportunities of digitalisation.
Over the recent years, strong efforts have been made to develop European data society. Legislative proposals have been made as well as investments in fostering data management and computing capacities, including in the framework of the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking focusing on High-Performance and Quantum Computing. This development must be supported by adding concrete targets in the Digital Decade policy programme for promoting cross-border and cross-sector data flows and re-use of data. These could be about building the common European data spaces by making use of existing infrastructures, competences and experience. The targets must also systematically promote interoperability and shared data management practices based on MyData and FAIR principles as well as the European Interoperability Framework.
Sustainable and human-centric digitalisation
The digital and green development are closely linked, hence the talk about a twin green and digital transition. Digitalisation allows for developing low-emission or no-emission solutions for different industries and providing new kind of tools for research and innovation beneficial for climate and the environment. At the same time, the ICT sector itself consumes a lot of electricity and, as a consequence, has a significant carbon footprint. Therefore, a new two-fold target must be added to the 2030 digital targets concerning the carbon footprint of the ICT sector: first, the EU countries should agree on a shared method for measuring the footprint of the sector and then set a target for reducing it with a view to eventually removing it altogether.
Digitalisation will not advance automatically but people are needed at the core of the digital transition. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to competence development, and there are indeed some targets for developing digital skills in the Commission’s proposal. These should be expanded to promote horizontal and continuous opportunities to update one’s competences, to improve the skills and competences of teachers as well as to create tighter links between education, research and innovation. Human-centricity of the 2030 targets must be strengthened also by promoting user-friendly digital services, for example by engaging users in co-design processes. Services must be easy for end-users to access and use, and sector-specific support and services must be made available. This is also in itself an area that requires developing new kinds of competences.
In cooperation towards the Digital Decade
Digitalisation is about such a big societal shift that wide international cooperation is needed to be able to meet the challenges and fully benefit from the opportunities it presents. Therefore, it is good that the Commission’s policy programme proposal attempts to promote wide Multi-Country Projects that pool funding from several different funding sources and aim at implementing digitalisation projects on such a large scale that no individual Member State could on their own. These projects must be implemented in a way that leverages fully the infrastructures and competences already built through projects such as EOSC, GAIA-X and EuroHPC. Interoperability between all new and old projects must also be systematically developed on the basis of the European Interoperability Framework.
The spirit of cooperation must be strengthened also in the 2030 targets for digital infrastructures. The targets that the Commission is proposing focus on individual infrastructure types and must be complemented or even replaced by a target concerning development of comprehensive, horizontal and interoperable ecosystems of different types of infrastructures. Cloud, High-Performance and Quantum Computing, AI, data management and connectivity must be developed in convergence and in cross-border and cross-sector cooperation in order to facilitate data use throughout the society. This will in turn support impactful research and innovation as well as create new business opportunities.
As the legislative process on the Digital Decade progresses, we would like to offer our experience and expertise to the service of the legislators in the European Parliament and the Member States. We will also gladly cooperate with like-minded partners when setting the 2030 targets and the projects helping to achieve them. We want to increase understanding and promote this big shift in wide cooperation. Let’s work together to make the twin green and digital transition come true!
The author is a Public Affairs Director at CSC
The author works as a Senior EU Policy Specialist at CSC