The Connected Europe initiative aims to “think about digital as an enabling infrastructure that can lead to a successful, green and resilient Europe”, said Friends of Europe’s Dharmendra Kanani, as he moderated the first policy debate of the ‘successful’ strand of the project.
With citizens having made it clear that they expect ‘convenience, quality and fairness’ from a digital Europe, the meeting was an opportunity to crowdsource solutions and big ideas. “Who should be responsible, how do we get there, and what are the key things we need to be thinking about as we move forward?”
The discussion – held virtually on 25 February and attended by dozens of stakeholders from across industry, NGOs, government, policymaking and civil society – centred around four key objectives gleaned from focus groups, a working group discussion, and additional consultations:
1. Deepen public-private and cross-sectoral cooperation by creating more opportunities for industry leaders and governments to co-design solutions with and through tech
- Vodafone’s Ben Wreschner said the building blocks are there to carry out a successful digital transformation but urged that the focus be as much on policy reform as on funds. 9:41 – “There is no point putting money into a system which isn’t optimal; we have to optimise the system and put the money in to ensure the next generation really does get the benefit from this investment.”
- 22:50– “The private sector is very key… I travel all over Albania to understand and see the tourism; tourism is dead in this place because of the pandemic, so that’s where the private sector together with the government and civil society can intervene…” [Dajana Berisha, Executive Director of the Forum for Civic Initiatives]
2. Boost competitiveness through diversity – invest in companies led by the ‘unusual suspects’
- Are multilateral institutions up to the job of improving the economic activity of under-represented groups such as women and disabled people? 40:54 – “Yes. … nothing is perfect, but just look at the COVID response and recovery, and the leadership role that institutions like the IMF have taken in pivoting to adapt their approach to looking at resilience and recovery.” [Margo Thomas, Founder and CEO of the Women’s Economic Imperative]
- The inclusion of all sectors of society in taking advantage of the opportunities ahead is widely supported but for the EU’s recovery and resilience plan to make sense it must be as close as possible to what people feel are their needs on the ground, which includes being more open, said Friends of Europe Trustee and former European Commission director-general for competition and energy, Philip Lowe. 45:01 – “We have to have a lot more openness on the conditions which we impose on the use of, for example, European or UN funding. If the conditionality is too strong… we will bog ourselves down in arguments… and that leads, inevitably, to delay and lack of delivery.”
3. Improve collective intelligence sharing within and among member states
- Zofija Mazej Kukovic, Deputy Chair of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) Managing Board and former Slovenian minister of health, said there are several opportunities within existing political structures for improving collective intelligence, as well as programmes such as ‘EP to Campus’. 50:18 – “The fourth possibility is the Erasmus programme and the Jean Monnet programme, because young students actually are the glue of all European and global nations, and they were born in the digital cradle.”
- Vasia Vasilopoulou, Deputy CEO at Stellar Capacity, said blockchain technology can help improve collective intelligence-sharing, and cited an example of its use within higher education. 52:07 – “Imagine being able to have one system, which includes unified data where you as a user can simply create and get a virtual transcript of all your educational achievements through your entire life, and then share this information with universities and institutions in other member states – that would be the dream.”
- One of the core functions that governments at every level now have is “basically to run databases”, said futurist Ben Hammersley, but the data is “terrible” and society lacks the vocabulary to form a functional relationship with it. 1:03:12 – “For example… the ownership of your data: this is an insanely faulty premise, because the vast majority of data isn’t something you can own exclusively…… We need to invent new words for different types of data and we need to re-educate ourselves and think more deeply about what data is.”
4. Take a whole-of-society, whole-of-economy approach to digital education and skills which ensures that no one is left behind
- 1:07:47 – “Digital technology and internet access should be accessible, for free, to everyone and should be considered a human right. I think European policy should be focused on how to digitalise isolated and marginalised areas.” [Marjus Ceveli, human rights and political activist]
- To meet targets on increasing digital skills across Europe we need to put in place “hundreds of millions of specialised classes” – which needs active involvement from a lot of players. 1:13:10 – “It’s important to have a strategy… that goes beyond simply having nice remarks about education, about digital skills. We need to have milestones. We need to have clear guidelines…” [Victor Negrescu, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Culture and Education and former Romanian minister for EU affairs]
- 1:17:10– “Companies should work with ministries of education to identify the key digital skills for tomorrow’s jobs so that meaningful digital curricula can be designed… and digital skills certificates can be designed as tools to prove and assess such competencies.” 1:18:34 – We should avoid the acquisition of digital skills becoming a luxury and be “specifically targeting groups that could otherwise be excluded from digital skilling…”. [Virginia Maria Barchiesi, Generation Z Youth Ambassador for UNICEF Italy]
- 1:30:52 – “Maybe we should have… schools in Europe partnering with rural schools in Africa and see if we can interchange education… which could facilitate a global village full of educated people.” [Jeffree Rugare, CEO of Global Solar Private Limited and Member of the Africa Europe Foundation’s Sustainable Energy Strategy Group]
- 1:36:11 – The vision of a global classroom is “highly appealing”, said Ben Wreschner, who said the Vodafone Foundation has an instant ‘classroom in a suitcase’ initiative that can be deployed to global trouble-spots: “We linked up the Kakuma refugee camp in East Africa to our headquarters in London where we had Mo Salah the footballer, who is the ambassador for this programme. The joy this brought to the kids was beyond belief… it’s really part of a vision for connecting everyone in the world and creating a more cohesive society.”
The power of connectivity is beyond imagination. If developed properly and fairly, it can boost and transform lives, create a sense of community, and enable Europe to live up to its values. Connectivity opens up a world of access to education, skills and training, enabling self-agency in tackling climate change & the housing crisis as well as improving mobility and agriculture – and so much more.
That is the power we are tapping into through Connected Europe, an initiative launched in partnership with Vodafone to foster a successful, green and resilient digital transformation in Europe.
Solutions cannot be not determined by a single institution or approach. It isn’t about access to jobs vs. access to health, or a greener Europe vs. a strong economy. It’s about wiring things around people and communities to improve livelihoods. It’s about private, public and civil society working in a different way, and together, locked in by social contract that enables a just transition to a world that is fast emerging.
Participants include: Virginia Maria Barchiesi, Generation Z Youth Ambassador for UNICEF Italy; Dajana Berisha, Executive Director of the Forum for Civic Initiatives; Velibor Bošković, Executive Director of the Science Technology Park Montenegro and 2020-2021 European Young Leader (EYL40); Jorge Esteban, Advisor to the Spanish Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism; Patricia Frias, Head of International Relations at Fondazione Cariplo; Andrea Mairate, Economic Advisor at the European Commission Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs; Zofija Mazej Kukovic, Deputy Chair of the ECDC Managing Board, former member of the European Parliament and former Slovenian minister of health; Victor Negrescu, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Culture and Education and former Romanian minister for EU affairs; Margo Thomas, Founder and CEO of the Women’s Economic Imperative; Vasia Vasilopoulou, Deputy CEO at Stellar Capacity; and Ben Wreschner, Chief Economist at Vodafone Group, among others.
This Policy Insight is the first in a series and will be an opportunity to discuss the recommendations of the Successful Europe Working Group with a multi-stakeholder audience.
The digital transformation is a cornerstone of European recovery, and will ultimately enable Europe to be more successful and competitive on the global stage. But what does a successful Europe look like, and how can it be achieved? In recent focus groups, Debating Europe found that citizens repeatedly cited convenience, quality and fairness as the keys to success. To reach such meta-goals, Europe will need to become more globally competitive, with the right framework in place to stimulate digital innovation, enable citizens’ trust and speed up investment in the right areas. The continent will need to see a renewed drive towards investments in infrastructure and look to new forms of public-private partnerships. And it will need to boost access to digital education, skills and learning to unlock job opportunities – ultimately leading to greater equality of opportunity and improved social mobility.
This debate will be an opportunity to discuss the recommendations of the Successful Europe Working Group with a multi-stakeholder audience.
- By Jamie Shea
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- Area of Expertise
- Peace, Security & Defence
- By Yamina Saheb