Do EU parties care about digitalisation? DIGITAL SME calls to vote in the European elections

  • As the EU approaches a new political cycle, digital SMEs and citizens should be on top of the EU parties´ political proposals for the digital agenda

  • Through 10 priority areas within the realm of digital and industrial policies, DIGITAL SME analysed different EU parties recipes to test their match for a  European Digital New Deal

  • Digital transformation is a game-changer for EU citizens and businesses. To make sure that the EU delivers on digital leadership, DIGITAL SME calls for an informed vote in the upcoming elections

As the European Union approaches a new legislation, the future of its digital leadership stands at a crucial juncture. In this decisive moment, digital SMEs stand ready to support an open, democratic, and innovative European Union.

As ballots are opening across Member States, someone may ask: “How much do EU parties actually care about digitalisation and SMEs?”

By looking at the frequency of references to digital issues and to SMEs, four out of six main EU political groups mentioned ´digital issues´ more than 15 times in their political blueprints. At the same time, the attention dedicated to industrial policies and SMEs is still too little, considering that SMEs represent the vast majority of companies active in the digital economy.

Do EU parties care about Digital and Industrial Policy and SMEs?

Having in mind this vision, DIGITAL SME analysed all the (available) manifestos published by the EU parties[1], focusing on 10 priority areas in the realm of technology, digital and industrial policies, reflecting the priority areas included in the European Digital New Deal proposal.

As illustrated in the table below, the analysis evaluates to what extent a given policy priority is addressed more, less, in-depth, or overall neglected by the EU political groups[2].  In what follows, the most relevant proposals from across the EU parties are identified and discussed, in comparison to the recommendations proposed in the DIGITAL SME Manifesto.

As Europe is lagging behind in the development of digital technologies, DIGITAL SME envisioned the goal of mastering digital innovation as one of the pillars of the European Digital New Deal Proposal in its Manifesto.

It is positive to see that most EU parties address the need for Europe to stay on top of emerging technologies, focusing especially on Artificial Intelligence. Notably, the European People´s Party (EPP) wishes to place Europe ahead on human-centred digitalisation and AI.  The party’s position favours the development of AI in Europe via adequate funding, rather than hindering it through over-regulation. The human-centric approach and transparency on AI is also encouraged by the Greens/EFA and the Left Group, while the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) call for more investments in digital public infrastructures. Renew Europe supports the creation of a dynamic European data economy and the development of AI, cloud computing, and big data capabilities, calling for an overall EU technological leadership.

Overall, EU parties support a more business-friendly Single Market, via proposals  often mirroring the DIGITAL SME Manifesto vision,placing the ability for SMEs of doing business in the Single Market as its second pillar of the European Digital New Deal. Completing the Digital Single Market is a priority for Renew Europe, as the party insists in encouraging harmonised EU-rules and the respect of the one-in-one-out principle (i.e. one rule in, one rule out) to create a more business-friendly environment. The EPP also proposes a ´one in, two out´ principle with the objective of reducing the regulatory burden by a third, and a Commissioner solely responsible for SMEs. In line with the concern of excessive regulatory burden, the European Conservative and Reformists (ECR) party calls for reducing red-tape for SMEs. In the context of the Single Market, the S&D wants to see clear state aid rules and a new approach to competition policy that levels the global playing field for European industries.

As digital skills are critical to maintain European competitiveness, EU parties do not seem to place the right level of urgency to the matter: only Renew Europe emphasises the need for the workforce’s upskilling and reskilling , while both S&D and EPP generally commit to promote digital literacy and cybersecurity education for Europeans.

Concerning the green and digital transition, several EU parties advance proposals in line with those suggested in the DIGITAL SME Manifesto. On one hand, S&D highlights the importance for a Green-Digital Investment Plan and the Greens support an approach towards a sustainable digitalisation paired with strategic public investments. On the other, EPP emphasises  the capacity to develop clean tech in Europe.

Finally, the last pillar of the DIGITAL SME Manifesto relates to building alliances for European digital leadership.   DIGITAL SME considers that ICT standards are an essential tool to create technology ecosystems based on interoperability to promote innovation. EU parties mostly fail to address this important issue: only the Greens mention the importance of building open and interoperable technical standards to enhance product durability and pave the way towards a zero-waste society.

Strategic Public-Private Partnerships are deemed necessary by Renew Europe for EU´s resilience and technological advancement. International partnerships are mentioned by the EPP as a means to promote free trade, while safeguarding strategic sectors, while S&D wants to strengthen Europe´s sovereignty by leveraging on international trade.

In line with the recent Council Conclusions on the future of EU digital policy[3], DIGITAL SME calls on political parties to find a common European approach to innovative digital technologies. A shared strategy promoting an effective implementation of the recently adopted EU digital legislation, minimizing the burden on innovative SMEs and shifting the focus on promoting future European innovation and technological development.

This analysis of parties’ priorities on digital and industrial policies provides a support for those innovators across Europe seeking for a clear picture of the proposals at stake in these areas.

As the digital transformation has proven to be a game-changer for EU citizens and businesses, DIGITAL SME calls to an informed vote in the European elections to make sure that EU policy-makers deliver on the continent´s digital leadership for the new legislature.

[1] Please note that the EU political group Identity and Democracy did not publish a Manifesto ahead of European elections, thus it is not included in this analysis.

[2] Please note this assessment is based on available Manifestos and/or similar programmatic documents published at European level. Further, it shall be noted that larger EU parties produced more comprehensive documents, while smaller ones have issued less extensive publications. This may have caused a bias in the assessment of the elaborations of the proposals by priority areas. Therefore, this should be understood as an indicative overview and by no means as a fully detailed analysis of the policy proposals at stake.

[3] Council Conclusions on the Future of EU Digital Policy