The first decade of the 21st century is marked by the rise of the Internet, ICTs, digital technologies and other innovations, reshaping different aspects of society: economic, political, cultural, social. But where do most of these great innovations come from? From outside Europe: the United States and Asia.
Europe is lagging behind other continents in the transition from analogue to digital, a process of digitisation going on since the invention of the computer. What is the European Union’s solution to keep up with the rest of the world? The Digital Agenda.
Digital Agenda for Europe
“Europe once led the world in all things digital. Now, we need more than ever to recapture that lead. Let’s not turn our backs on that opportunity.” – Neelie Kroes, former Commissioner for Digital Agenda
With the digital economy as the fastest-growing sector in the world, the European Commission launched the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) on May 2010 as one of the seven flagship initiatives for Europe’s 2020 growth strategy.
The Digital Agenda’s purpose is to “reboot” the economy by providing opportunities for citizens and businesses in Europe to maximise the benefits associated with digital technologies.
Through the DAE’s 101 actions, the European Union wants to revolutionise public services through the use of digital technologies. Entrepreneurs will be able to set up and run a business remotely, from anywhere within the EU through fast and reliable broadband connectivity, having video conference meetings instead of costly and long travelling.
Citizens will also be able to study or work easily and efficiently in a safe online environment from home. Digital skills will become part of the school curriculum, ensuring digital inclusion among EU citizens and weakening the digital divide.
Of these goals, the creation of a connected digital single market is the most ambitious and now belongs to the ten key priorities of the new Commission.
The Digital Future: Recent Developments and Challenges Ahead
More and more politicians, businesses, and citizens are realising the great potential in ICTs and digital technologies and how Europe can benefit greatly from them: over the next eight years, the European Commission is expecting a 5% increase in the EU’s GDP, additional growth in Europe by €250 billion, and the creation of more than 1 million jobs.
Despite this optimism, there are still many barriers to achieving most of the initiative’s targets for Europe’s digital future.
Despite an increase in internet usage and citizens going digital, as well as an improvement in broadband speeds, investments on digital infrastructure, research and innovation has been very low despite the Horizon 2020 programme. In addition, only a small number of businesses, especially SMEs, utilise digital technologies in their business model and transactions due to the cost, the lack of digital competencies and a limited digital workforce. Appropriating policies for a digital economy at the local, national and European level is also a huge problem for policy makers.
Of all these challenges, the biggest barrier of all is the lacking digital mindset among many Europeans. They have yet to put their foot on the door and get inside the digital bandwagon before the door of opportunity closes as more and more non-Europeans embrace the digital future. After all, there is no way forward but digital.
This is the first article from the series of What’s Up Europe articles published by UNITEE every two weeks on the Digital Agenda for Europe, focusing on different sectors of European society: Arts & Culture, Research & Innovation, Politics, Youth & Education, and Employment, Entrepreneurship & SMEs.