DIGITAL SME summit reveals a bottom-up vision for a European Digital New Deal

Yesterday, the European DIGITAL SME Alliance held its first ever DIGITAL SME summit, setting out a bottom-up vision to achieve European technological leadership by 2030. Hosted at the European Economic and Social Committee with over 250 participants and interventions by Vice-President Věra Jourová, Commissioner Ivanova and Estonia’s former president Kaljulaid, the summit marks the beginning of a consultation with Europe’s tech SMEs to define the priorities of a European Digital New Deal for the next EU mandate.

The President of the European DIGITAL SME Alliance, Oliver Grün opened the event speaking on the urgency for Europe to catch up with its digital competitors.

The EU’s share in the global ICT market has halved in the last ten years, from 21.8% in 2013 to 11.3% in 2022. We rely on foreign countries’ imports for 80% of our digital products. It’s obvious that the old way of doing things is not working and that we need a new blueprint for SME-led technological leadership.’’

Throughout the day, leading experts from different backgrounds opened up the conversation towards that 2030 vision, laying out strong SME-centred ideas and solutions.

On AI, digital SMEs call for regulation to strike the right balance between trust and innovation. While the AI Act will raise the compliance costs for SMEs, AI foundation models should bear their fair share of responsibility. Furthermore, high concentration in the AI foundation models’ market is a risk that Europe needs to address.

Siding with consumers and civil society, SMEs demand more regulatory control over dominant platforms allowing interoperability and fair conditions for users and new entrants. A strong enforcement of the Digital Markets Act, as well as privacy by design rules, must ensure that innovative European companies can challenge the incumbents.

President Grün stressed that:

“While the mainstream narrative is that the digital world is the result of BigTech, digital SMEs can deliver an alternative in line with European values by designing technologies that are humancentric, inclusive and sustainable. To do so, they call on governments to side with them in a strong public-private partnership: regulation, competition and privacy enforcement, industrial and innovation policies, as well as standardisation, should all be coordinated to achieve Europe’s technological leadership”

In the context of the European Year of Skills, the summit awarded the best practices of those SMEs whose contributions to re-skilling and up-skilling are making a difference. Tens of thousands of digital SMEs across the EU are enabling the technological revolution, by providing services and support to other organisations. As a leading actor in the Large Scale Partnership on digital skills initiated by the European Commission with hundreds of stakeholders, the Alliance wants SMEs to be in the front seat. With them, Skillnet Ireland is a world benchmark in workforce development programs that have supported over 24.700 businesses and trained more than 92.400 people.

A dedicated panel on European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs) demonstrated how SMEs have been supported through their digital transformation. To that end, the Alliance announced the upcoming launch of a SME-centred coordination group for all the 230 Hubs and set up an online form for expressions of interest.

Finally, the summit underscored the contribution of digital solutions to a climate neutral future. Calculating the net positive impact enabled by solutions in terms of CO2 emission reduction is important for vendors, especially SMEs, in order to attract investments and for governments to provide incentives while avoiding green-washing. The European Green Digital Coalition’s advances in the development of science-based calculation methods were highlighted.

As a demonstration of the achievements of European SME innovators, the summit included a pitching session over DIGITAL SME’s Matchmaking Platform for companies, whose solutions promote resilience and sustainability.  The event was concluded with the DIGITAL SME Awards ceremony, a spotlight on SMEs developing digital solutions with positive impact on three categories: green, skills and society.

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