Europe’s digitalisation at a crossroads: A closer look at digital sovereignty

  • “Digital sovereignty” describes the capability to actively shape the digital transition of the state, the economy and society. It is not about protectionism, but on the contrary, prevents protectionist tendencies.

  • The freedom to choose requires having different options along the whole “technology stack” (hardware, software, services) and increasing capabilities in cybersecurity, digital skills and other so-called “horizontal requirements”.

  • Join our conversation around “digital sovereignty” and let us know what you think!

Europe, and the world, are undergoing a digital transformation of society and the economy. The digital transformation is a multifaceted process that has an impact on all sectors of the economy and society[1]. For instance, in the relatively short time span of the past ten years, we have already seen enormous changes when it comes to the way we communicate or shop: We are constantly connected via our smartphones and are increasingly relying on online channels for purchasing products and services.

Increased connectivity, and new digital technologies and services based on information and communication technologies (ICT), enhance business processes and support the development of entirely new business models. Data analytics can helpbusinesses to optimise processes. Advanced manufacturing techniques allow companies to manage production processes autonomously if machines communicate with each other and other systems.

However, while some aspects of the digital transformation seem to turn governments and society into passive actors, it is actually a process in which Europe’s citizens and business can have a say! Citizens and businesses have the opportunity to actively shape the digital transformation. This is where the term digital sovereignty comes in.

The importance of having a choice

Digital sovereignty, in essence, is about having a choice. According to BITMi’s definition that DIGITAL SME is adapting, “digital sovereignty is the capability to actively shape the digital transition of the state, the economy and society[2]”.

Shaping this transformation requires autonomy and the possibility to choose the digitalisation path that Europe wants to take. It is neither about protectionism, nor about prescribing companies, citizens, and public administrations how they should digitalise. On the contrary, it is about building up capacities, and supporting a vibrant and diverse digital ecosystem (along the whole technology stack) that can offer different options to governments, businesses, and individuals to choose from.

In our understanding, the capability to actively shape the digital transition rests on two pillars: 1) a digital economy which provides hardware, software and digital services (i.e., the whole so-called “technology stack”), 2) horizontal requirements that support capabilities in areas such as cybersecurity, data economy, digital skills and more (for the other so-called “horizontal requirements”, please check the White Paper.

In addition, digital sovereignty requires a conversation about which areas of public services we may want to increase our autonomy: What degree of choice is needed to ensure the resilience of digital infrastructure, education, or health services?

How to move ahead?

At DIGITAL SME, we believe that government, administrations, businesses, academia and civil society should engage in a debate on what they consider essential in the digital transformation. In our view, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are a vital component, if not the most vital component of the European economy. SMEs represent over 99% of EU businesses which is close to 25 million companies. SMEs in the ICT sector make up roughly 4% (1.2 million) of all European enterprises. Those so-called digital enablers provide the digital aspects, including emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), big data that sustain the digital transformation. This vibrant digital ecosystem can be an important source of innovation and choice in digital products and services.

If you’d like to engage in this conversation with us, please do not hesitate to reach out at office@digitalsme.eu. If you are a company or a business association, you can also check out our membership options here .


 

[1] OECD Library, see: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/b045289f-en/index.html?itemId=/content/component/b045289f-en

[2] Deutschland kann digital: https://deutschlandkanndigital.de/

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