EU and UK set out digital plans for coming decade

The European Commission has proposed a ‘digital compass’ to set its course for a digitally empowered Europe by 2030. The UK’s Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) has also set out its top ten priorities for a technology driven future to ‘build back better’ following the Covid19 pandemic.

European Digital Compass

At a press conference on March 9, 2021, Commission Executive Vice President for ‘A Europe Fit for the Digital Age’ Margrethe Vestager said that the compass builds on the Commission’s digital strategy of February 2020. ‘It proposes tangible goals and ambitious targets to help us navigate in the European digital transition,’ she said.

The proposal starts with a list of European digital principles to protect and empower citizens. The principles include:

  • Universal Access to high quality connectivity
  • To be educated with sufficient digital skills
  • to have access to fair and non-discriminatory online services
  • and ensuring the same rights that apply offline, apply online.

Executive Vice President Vestager said the Commission will consult widely on its digital principles to arrive at an inter-institutional declaration, ‘and we will work with the European Parliament, Member States and other key stakeholders to agree on our “compass” in the form of a digital programme that is clear about our destination, on how to get there and how to measure success’.

The EU digital compass sets common objectives around four cardinal points. These are:

  1. Digitally skilled citizens and professionals. By 2030, at least 80 per cent of all adults should have basic digital skills and there should be 20 million employed Information Communication Technology specialists in the EU, with more women taking up those roles.
  2. Secure, performant and sustainable digital infrastructures. By 2030, all EU households should have gigabit connectivity and all populated areas should be covered by 5G; Europe should contribute 20 per cent of the world production of cutting-edge, sustainable semiconductors; 10,000 climate neutral, highly secure edge nodes should be deployed in the EU; and Europe should have its first quantum computer by 2025.
  3. Digital transformation of business. By 2030, three out of four companies should use cloud computing services, big data and AI; more than 90 per cent of small and medium enterprises should reach at least a basic level of digital intensity; and the 122 EU unicorns should double.
  4. Digitilisation of public services. By 2030 all key public services should be available online; all citizens will have access to their medical e-records; and 80 percent of citizens should use an eID solution.

The targets will be enshrined in a policy programme to be agreed with the European Parliament and the Council.

Executive Vice President Vestager said: ‘The Compass will set common objectives on which we will focus our joint efforts. It will help us channel the money that we have secured for our digital transition, both from the European Budget and the Recovery and Resilience Facility. And to mobilise private investment for these purposes. It is also crucial that Member States work together to fill in the gaps in critical technologies.’

In their Recovery and Resilience Plans, Member States are committed to dedicate at least 20 per cent to the digital priority. Possible multi-country projects include a pan-European interconnected data processing infrastructure; the design and deployment of the next generation of low power, trusted processors; or connected public administrations.

Commenting on the global dimension, Executive Vice President Vestager said: ‘We therefore aim to build coalition of like-minded partners around the world ready to defend the open nature of the internet and a use of technology that respects fundamental rights and democratic values. We will work to address the large connectivity gaps in the developing world while promoting our human-centric model, and we will explore setting up a new Digital Connectivity Fund to that end.’

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: ‘Europe has a lifetime opportunity to build back better. With the new multi-annual budget and the Recovery and Resilience Facility, we have mobilised unprecedented resources to invest in the digital transition. The pandemic has exposed how crucial digital technologies and skills are to work, study and engage – and where we need to get better. We must now make this Europe’s Digital Decade so that all citizens and businesses can access the very best the digital world can offer. Today’s Digital Compass gives us a clear view of how to get there.’

UK Digital Priorities

The DCMS has set out its ten priorities to shape a ‘golden age for tech’ in the UK. These are:

  1. Rolling out world class digital infrastructure. The Government will spend £5 billion to make sure homes and businesses benefit from gigabit broadband – including those in harder-to-reach areas.
  2. Unlocking the power of data. The UK aims to become a data destination by removing barriers to responsible data sharing and use.
  3. Building a tech-savvy nation. Every adult to have a base level of digital and cyber skills through apprenticeships and digital bootcamps to give them the confidence to use the internet safely and securely personally and professionally. A £520 million Help-to Grow scheme will empower 100,000 businesses to adopt the latest tech.
  4. Keeping the UK safe and secure online. The UK’s online harms legislation will hold social media companies to account for the safety of their users while protecting free speech and the freedom of the press. The Government will also implement measures to make networks more secure against cyber threats and ensuring future critical technologies are ‘secure by design’.
  5. Fuelling a new era of start-ups and scale-ups. The Digital Markets Unit will open up the market to new and innovative tech companies. The UK aims to be an attractive country to start and grow a digital business by creating the right environment for companies to access growth capital at every stage of their cycle.
  6. Unleashing the transformational power of tech and AI. The National Artificial Intelligence Strategy, to be published later this year. The Government also intends to develop quantum computing and other transformative tech.
  7. Championing free and fair digital trade. The Government will ensure our trade deals include digital provisions, as happened with Japan, and will forge new digital partnerships and investment opportunities.
  8. Leading the global conversation on tech. The UK aims to lead global efforts to boost digital competition and strengthen its reputation as a pro-tech, pro-innovation business environment. The UK will use the G7 Presidency to shape the debate on how to govern tech companies, champion its democratic values and coordinate work on telecoms diversification and ethical AI.
  9. Leveling up digital prosperity across the UK. The Government will ensure long-term digital prosperity is evenly spread across the country. It will continue to support tech hubs, many of which are already based outside London, and build on regional innovation, strengths and specialisms.
  10. Using digital innovation to reach NetZero. In the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow, the Government will support the uptake of technologies that reduce carbon emissions and restore biodiversity and give businesses the digital tools to reduce their own emissions in the UK’s green industrial revolution.