Addressing Europe’s most pressing challenges through connectivity and collaboration


Digital & Data Governance

Picture of Murielle Lorilloux
Murielle Lorilloux

EU Cluster and Enterprise Americas & Asia Pacific Director at Vodafone Business

In the face of an increasingly challenging and unpredictable environment, building a more resilient, sustainable and united Europe has never been more critical. With the right focus, Europe can thrive, but three critical priorities need to be addressed urgently.

The first is accelerating the widespread availability of 5G transformational technology and the digital solutions it will enable, to ensure that Europe doesn’t fall behind in the global economic race. On the current trajectory, Europe will reach 60% low latency 5G coverage more than ten years after China.

The second is ensuring the benefits of digitalisation are fairly distributed to businesses, both large and small, and to people, wherever they live, in the form of more efficient public services, such as health care and education.

The third is enhancing Europe’s resilience in the cyber field and reducing its external dependencies in critical sectors – most pressingly in relation to energy and food.

For Europe to reap the benefits of a truly digital society, the public and private sectors must work together

The benefits of addressing these priorities are broad and deep, impacting Europe economically, environmentally and societally: new digital technologies could contribute €2.2tn to the European Union by 2030. A 5% increase in the adoption of telemedicine technology in the EU, for example, could deliver a 3.7% reduction in the cost of patient care and a 3.6% fall in mortality. Digital technology could reduce global emissions by up to 15%, and air quality improvements from smart environmental management could reduce disease risk by 8% to 15%.

However, for Europe to reap the benefits of a truly digital society, the public and private sectors must work together – both at a regional and EU level. There are three essential enablers of success when it comes to digitalisation.

5G connectivity, services and applications must be at the heart of EU strategy; it should not be relegated to a single unit or department but should reach all sectors of the economy. Benefits are economical, societal and environmental, but to ensure Europeans benefit in the long-term, Europe relies on a scaled telecommunications sector, equipped to meet rising demands. This is where we see a harmonised and consistent policy approach across the EU playing a key role in supporting our digital society.

Regions need to use 5G to support and transform their industries, including manufacturing, defence and energy; this will drive a new wave of sustainable productivity. Smart manufacturing solutions, for example, can help increase factory performance, improve product quality and reduce waste, as well as capture knowledge and training. At our 5G Vodafone Lab in Germany, for instance, we continuously develop new innovations with state-of-the-art technology so that we can contribute to shaping the gigabit network of the future, underpinning Europe’s industrial transformation and meeting its 2030 Digital Decade targets.

There is a serious risk that some people in our society and some businesses in Europe will be left behind

Governments need to remove policy barriers and incentivise investments at unprecedented levels; the European recovery funds (EURF) have helped with this. In Spain, we have seen the government commit to using €4.8bn of its EURF to support SME digitisation, while the Italian government is placing more emphasis on connectivity within its scheme. This is great progress and it has enabled other countries to look at similar support measures; we see renewed momentum in Greece, Romania and Ireland, for example. For true European transformation, goverments will need to learn from each other and make considerable ground in creating the infrastructure and connectivity needed to support a stable digital future with 5G, which requires much more investment than 4G.

Technology can improve lives, digitalise critical sectors, and enable inclusive and sustainable digital societies. However, there is a serious risk that some people in our society and some businesses in Europe will be left behind.

As the largest pan-European and African technology communications company, Vodafone has a key role to play in helping address some of Europe’s mobility, digitalisation, energy efficiency and security challenges. Our Social Contract underpins our partnership approach with governments, regulators and citizens to drive innovation, address societies’ needs and build mutual trust. Vodafone’s ‘inclusion for all’ strategy specifically seeks to ensure access to connectivity, digital skills, and relevant products and services, such as education, healthcare and finance.

The EU should step up its efforts to make Europe’s energy grid smarter

In short, the telecommunications sector can provide Europe with the connectivity and technology it needs to realise its potential, and improve society and economies. Vodafone, for example, is already partnering with governments to digitalise healthcare, education and agriculture, and create cleaner, safer cities. Every day, we can see the benefits of connectivity. However, together we can do more.

Digitalisation can also help address the pressing issue of energy. Full adoption of digital solutions will make power usage smarter and help accelerate electrification. Reports have shown that digitalisation can cut CO2 emissions by up to 20%. In this context, the EU should step up its efforts to make Europe’s energy grid smarter and accelerate digital adoption across industrial sectors.

We have reached a critical moment for the European economy and its competitiveness. Digital has become a top priority for European governments because of shifts at macroeconomic, societal and geopolitical levels, but the clock is ticking. It’s clear that connectivity and digital services can enable an inclusive, sustainable and economically successful society – but only if we work together at pace to make sure they do.

This article is a contribution from a member or partner organisation of Friends of Europe. The views expressed in this #CriticalThinking article reflect those of the author(s) and not of Friends of Europe.

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