10 key priorities for Europe's Digital Future

Bring the competition and taxation framework to the digital age. Introduce reciprocity in access to strategic markets.

Europe must advocate a level playing field for all businesses. The competition rules of the European Union are among the strictest in the world. However, digitalisation has posed novel challenges as new services and technologies have emerged, which bring unfamiliar forms of market dominance, some of which are enforced by network effects and access to large amounts of user data. In addition, tech giants exploit the loopholes of the EU tax system and avoid paying their fair share. This is something that smaller companies cannot do, which puts them in a competitive disadvantage. Europe needs to make sure that dominance of large multinationals in certain areas does not prevent new players from accessing markets. Big tech companies must be stopped from erecting barriers to new players, while competition authorities should preserve the interests of consumers. Europe’s public procurement market is open to all players, also in areas of strategic interest. Europe should seek reciprocity to maintain a level-playing field, security and strategic autonomy. Foreign take-overs in strategic areas should be subject to greater scrutiny.

How to achieve this goal:

  • Support the introduction of a digital tax, which creates a level-playing field in taxation between large and small players, while not placing any additional burden on smaller players.
  • Modernise the competition framework and provide tools to tackle new forms of dominance, enhanced by network effects and access to data.
  • Prevent platforms from using their dominance to discriminate against competitors’ products or services and to impose unfair business contracts.
  • Provide SMEs with the means to file complaints against unfair practices adopted by multinationals and ensure that the decision-making authorities in such cases are well-positioned and competent to assess complex and highly technical cases.
  • Introduce reciprocity in access to public procurement markets, specifically in areas of strategic interest.

Create an investment and research environment beneficial to innovation.

Europe needs to combine an open innovation eco-system with strategic thought and investment allowing us to succeed in digital technologies and to become a leader in the digital economy. This environment must allow failure when engaging in cutting-edge research – thus, funding should not always be tied to specific results. Further, we need a new innovation culture that rewards risk-takers. When starting up, policies and regulations should aim not to limit the potential of new technologies. Investment in capital-intensive future technologies such as quantum computing and in the necessary infrastructure is needed.  Supporting innovation and the competitiveness of European businesses must be the primary focus of EU financial frameworks and programmes. While many companies still depend on traditional bank lending, innovation cannot flourish. New technologies, such as blockchain, can provide innovative funding solutions. Other world regions have led by example in creating favourable conditions – financially, legally and attracting skills & talent – to foster an innovation-friendly eco-system. In Europe, we need to follow suit.

How to achieve this goal:

  • Establish economic areas with a “sandbox environment”, e.g. start-up capital like Paris, Stockholm or Berlin, which will provide an environment with favourable conditions – financially, legally and attracting skills & talent – to test the application of future technologies. These need to be linked up with existing research hubs.
  • Build European and national Digital Hubs and/or Competence Centres with a twofold role: 1) Support SMEs legally and with market expertise to form consortia to respond, e.g. to large public tenders and provide integrated solutions. 2) Consulting for digitalisation: Pool knowledge, skills and resources to help companies digitalise by providing support via consulting and training.
  • Introduce and support financial instruments which focus on innovation. Funding instruments, such as Digital Europe and Horizon Europe, should incentivise risk-prone projects instead of immediate result-orientation in the selection.
  • Provide investment in cutting-edge technologies, such as quantum computing, blockchain, biotechnology applications, virtual reality, etc. and in the necessary infrastructure.
  • Set incentives for high risk capital investments and support alternative forms of funding, such as, e.g. crowd-investment platforms and so-called Initial Coin Offerings (ICO), a technology based on blockchain, where traditional bank-lending is not available.
  • Encourage SME participation in public procurement by lowering administrative burdens and eliminating structural barriers for smaller players. Make sure that SMEs have equal access to European research and innovation programmes and funding schemes.

Invest in high speed and next generation internet also in rural areas. Develop e-government services.

Internet access rates in Europe vary strongly from country to country and region to region. Some of the most economically developed countries, such as Germany, lack basic internet services in rural areas. If we want to strengthen our SMEs, which are not necessarily located in urban centres but integrated in local communities, we need to provide fast internet access for affordable prices to all businesses and citizens. This requires investment in basic digital infrastructure by the member states, also in border regions. At the same time, we should uphold the net neutrality principle when implementing new internet standards. The principle should not be given up for the benefit of certain service or telecommunication providers. Moreover, Europe needs to move to the next level when it comes to improving public administration services for its citizens. Some European countries are leading the way, but others need to follow suit. eGovernment services that are in line with strong European data protection rules and cybersecurity standards should be implemented on a much broader scale.

 How to achieve this goal:

  • Ensure that all countries and most regions have reliable and fast broadband access. Invest in the deployment of secure mobile internet standards of the newest standard (5G).
  • Create more competition among telecommunication providers Europe-wide to ensure low prices. Realise a single market in telecommunication.
  • Ensure that networks are shared and used smartly to avoid unnecessary and costly duplication of infrastructure.
  • Ensure that next generation internet standards are deployed in line with the net neutrality principle, keeping a fair balance between the technologic benefits of new mobile internet standards and the net neutrality principle.
  • Promote eGovernment: Digitalise and standardise public administration in order to reach a “One-Stop-Access”: This principle implies that citizens can enter their data once and that the data is stored in compliance with existing data protection regulations and forwarded to the respective authorities (e.g. implemented in Estonia).

Develop a regulatory framework for data, which enhances access to data for European players across sectors and brings about data driven business models.

Data is the basis for automated analysis and machine learning. Access to data is crucial for innovation and economic success, and therefore needs to be guaranteed to smaller players. For the moment, Europe is not home to any of the large data platforms as they exist in the US or China. We therefore need to strengthen the access of European players to data and create opportunities for data sharing. At the same time, Europe needs to make use of its leadership in privacy regulation to create an integrated rule-based system that fosters trust and transparency. Users and customers should have the final say and ownership over their personal data while ensuring high security standards. Ideally, this will lead to an accessible and open data market & economy, where large data players share their users’ data with other players, and innovation can flourish as data is made available for different purposes in an anonymised, accessible, secure and fair way. Collaboration among data players should take place across different industries with specific data platforms, allowing for more innovation and efficiency gains.

How to achieve this goal:

  • Create a legislative framework that enhances user trust and allows customers to transfer their personal data to other service providers, thus creating a true data economy, in which personal data can be shared for different purposes, but control over personal data ultimately lies in the hands of the consumer. This could be supported by a public-private partnership on data.
  • Ensure that the manufacturers of data-producing machines provide the open (or openly documented) interfaces which enable SMEs to read and use non-personal data.
  • Create clusters and pilot projects of data sharing between research and companies. Foster an open access to re-usable public sector data.
  • Secure stronger privacy in electronic communications in line with GDPR while opening new business opportunities which strongly respect privacy.

Further circular economy models, smart cities and define Europe’s responsibility for our environment, relying on digital technologies.

A large share of worldwide generated waste is related to technological appliances – phones, computers and other hardware. At the same time, the resources to produce these appliances are becoming more and more scarce. The environmental footprint of buying a new phone every other year is enormous. Considering the environmental challenges, Europe is taking a step in the right direction by introducing circular economy rules and models. Circular and sustainable thinking needs to be integrated in manufacturing and technology as well as business management – to the benefit of the industry, the customers and the environment. While Europe’s cities and regions differ widely in their size, demographic composition and administrative structures, we need use the enormous potential that smart city solutions can bring to improve our daily lives. They hold enormous potential for energy savings and could thus benefit greatly the environment. Other world regions, especially in Asia, are deploying smart city solutions to enhance efficiencies related to traffic, electricity and water supplies and security. However, these technologies also bear the potential for surveillance and control, which are features that cannot be aligned with our European values. Therefore, we need to enhance the possibilities for smaller players to scale up and provide secure, sustainable solutions which safeguard our European values.

How to achieve this goal:

  • Promote circular economy rules and standards.
  • Enhance cooperation among smaller smart city and smart home solutions players as well as local communities to develop joint solutions for European cities and regions.
  • Encourage cross-industry collaboration to scale up innovative solutions in other areas.
  • Further the positive impact of efficiency gains in ICT appliances and data analysis for sustainability and environmental protection.

Create a legislative framework for trustworthy AI on the basis of rule of law and build European leadership in AI.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and deep learning will be at the centre of technological advancement and innovation but will also bring major societal changes. The automatised analysis of data with AI tools allows us to improve day-to-day services, to analyse complex social interactions and to improve the efficiency of industrial production processes. Its benefits in the fields of healthcare diagnostics, supply chain management, and others, cannot be underestimated. This brings major business opportunities, e.g. by offering tailor-made goods and services. Europe is already lagging behind its main competitors (the US and China) in the uptake and development of AI technologies, at least in some sectors. Therefore, sufficient financial investment and an encouraging legislative framework shall be created. Further, Europe needs to step up its capacity in researching and developing technical know-how to compete in behavioural data analytics relying on AI. On the backdrop of the Cambridge Analytical scandal and the potential for misuse, e.g. in the context of elections, Europe needs to set clear rules as regards their application.

How to achieve this goal:

  • Encourage investment in the development of AI technologies and necessary infrastructure.
  • Provide funding for and access to high performance computers.
  • Ensure access to data (especially for SMEs) which is a core requirement for machine learning and automated data analysis.
  • Allow and encourage the use of modern data analytics tools, such as text and data mining.
  • Provide a sustainable regulatory framework of AI with fundamental rights and the rule of law at its centrepiece. This framework must be complemented by ethics and a human centred approach to AI.
  • Limit manipulation possibilities offered by behavioural analytics and the exploitation of psychological weaknesses. Enable users to make informed choices (e.g. by ethical-by-design algorithms). Step up European capacity in this area.
  • Preserve the European Social Model by continuously upskilling European citizens. Develop new and flexible working, social security and learning models to alleviate potential labour market tension that may arise from automation.

Develop industry-education public partnerships for digital skills and promote a culture of life-long learning combined with accessible and open learning opportunities.

With more than 750,000 ICT professionals missing in the labour market, Europe is increasingly faced with a growing digital skills gap. Being less financially attractive employers, European SMEs are losing the competition over the most talented ICT graduates to multinational companies. Not only does this prevent European companies from furthering digitalisation and innovation, but also encourages a brain-drain from Europe. A European-wide strategy is needed to attract, upskill and retain ICT professionals. As technologies are changing rapidly, so are the competences and skills necessary to fulfil certain job roles. A common skills reference is needed to help companies identify the skills gap for specific profiles and to ensure a true digital single market, where people can easily move between EU countries. To bridge the skills shortage in the short to medium term, barriers to hire ICT employees also from outside the EU should be lowered.

How to achieve this goal:

  • Create and support European public-private partnerships on ICT skills and jobs, including industry and trade associations, national, regional and local governments, companies, education providers and ICT professionals.
  • Introduce a strategic and well-informed approach in skills development according to market needs, laying the basis for innovation in Europe.
  • Leverage on the growing network of Digital Innovation Hubs when implementing digital skills initiatives and ensure that these Hubs are industry-driven.
  • Encourage the choice for ICT careers, especially among female school-graduates or other less represented groups. Enable more flexible ways of working that would allow to attract more female ICT professionals.
  • Promote and encourage the use of a common language for skills and ICT competences (e.g. building on initiatives as the e-CF).
  • Promote basic competences such as critical thinking & logic, STEM, self-learning in education instead of solely deploying digital tools and material for learning.
  • Further open access and online education and affordable certification, e.g. for cybersecurity.
  • Reforming the application for the BlueCard: Currently, the annual salary required to obtain such a blue card is set too high even for ICT professionals.

Unleash the potential of standards that allow SMEs to access complex technologies and create innovation driven ecosystems.

ICT standardisation is necessary for digital companies to achieve interoperability of new technologies. Standards can open closed proprietary ecosystems and to enhance competition around certain products or markets. This brings significant benefits to both industry and consumers. Standardisation can facilitate market access and integration of new players into supply chains. It ensures product safety, reliability and environmental care. SMEs can develop innovative products and services on the basis of standardised technologies, which would not be available for them in a closed proprietary eco-system. Therefore, SMEs need to be given a voice to defend their interests in the creation of and the access to standards. Further, standards can increase cybersecurity if accessible and available also for smaller players.

How to achieve this goal:

  • Support standards-based innovation: facilitate the creation of industry ecosystems based on key standardised technologies (e.g. IoT, Intelligent Transport, smart homes, etc.), which companies of all sizes can access and innovate.
  • Support the representation of SMEs in the standardisation processes.
  • Encourage open and inclusive standardisation processes, allowing the effective participation of SMEs.
  • Foster collaboration between the European Commission and industry to promote or facilitate the development of strategic standards which are crucial for the competitiveness of European companies.
  • Invest in educating and training standardisation experts that can help European companies, especially SMEs, benefit from involvement in ICT standardisation.

Promote cybersecurity as a basic feature of digital sovereignty and data security, thus implementing concrete steps to enhance security.

Cybersecurity is a horizonal requirement, which is crucial for all companies going digital. Ensuring secure networks, software and transactions will be a precondition for emerging future technologies such as AI, smart city application, etc., to thrive and for our economy and industrial applications to move to the next level. Therefore, sufficient investment in innovation, certification and horizontal application is needed. Europe needs to develop its own capacity to autonomously secure its digital assets and to compete on global cybersecurity markets. With cybersecurity and security being at the heart of sovereignty and autonomy for any state or federation of states, the EU needs to recognise the importance of this domain for its autonomy and sovereignty – and that cybersecurity needs to be thought on a European level and cannot be handled nationally only. Digital SMEs can be a strong building block to develop European digital sovereignty in cybersecurity: SMEs are a major ingredient for securing the supply chains of ICT products and services. As cybersecurity technology is changing rapidly, digital SMEs, due to their agility, can provide the cutting-edge solutions needed to remain competitive. Creating an inter-connected, Europe-wide cybersecurity industrial and research ecosystem is only possible by generating a stimulating environment for digital SMEs.

How to achieve this goal:

  • Build on the existing ecosystem of SME cybersecurity vendors, aiming to create the best conditions for European cyber SME champions to compete on global cybersecurity markets.
  • Support inclusion of SMEs in funding for cybersecurity under the Digital Europe Programme and Horizon Europe Programme.
  • Create a label for EU developed and trusted solutions allowing companies to rely on products of the highest European data protection and security standards.
  • Increase SME access to certification schemes by lowering financial and administrative burdens.
  • Develop a long-term industrial strategy for strengthening Europe’s cyber-security sector.

Move towards an inclusive society ready for the digital century, granting equal opportunities to all.

The technologies changing our societies are currently developed by a minority. Most programmers, app developers and other ICT roles are carried out by men. At the same time, the algorithms and technical rules developed by this minority shape how our world of tomorrow will function. In order for the technologies of tomorrow to be accessible to all and to reduce bias, we need to ensure either strong oversight or a more balanced representation of different societal groups. We would like to see an inclusive society ready for the digital century, granting equal opportunities for all. Automation and artificial intelligence might lead to disruptions in the labour markets as some job profiles or certain tasks could be replaced by AI. In the medium to long term, we will feel consequences of growing inequalities and resulting pressures on the European Social Model. If Europe wants to maintain its successful social models, we need to be ready to improve the efficiency of these models. Our governments need to create new flexible ways of social support, to allow our citizens to continuously develop their skills in order to be ready for the challenges of the digital century.

How to achieve this goal:

  • Test and introduce innovative ideas to reform the social systems such as, e.g. a general basic income.
  • Promote gender equality in ICT jobs by providing mentoring programmes and role models starting in early education.
  • Enhance life-long learning opportunities.
  • Promote a core set of skills and knowledge which ranges from critical thinking, creativity, logic to the bases of European values and the EU’s founding principles.