Policy choices for a digital age: taking a whole economy, whole society approach

Discussion Paper

Digital & Data Governance

Digitalisation is rapid and accelerating, with innovation changing the way that we design, produce and generate value from products and related services. We are moving towards a digital economy and society.

And since industry is the main driving force of the European economy, it will have to turn more digital to keep up with an increasingly digitised world.

Europe has all the elements needed to make the digitalisation of its industry a success – combining technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, cloud computing and the ‘internet of things’ to develop the products and services of the future.

Many companies, especially those in the high-tech sector, are already taking advantage of these new digital opportunities. But many traditional sectors and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) lag behind.

To make matters worse, there are large differences between EU countries and regions that risk creating a new ‘digital divide’. This is something that we have to actively guard against, because it could be detrimental to the overall economic development of Europe.

The European Commission aims to make sure that every business in Europe – whichever the sector, wherever the location, whatever the size – can draw the full benefit from digital innovation.

This is the objective of the Digitising European Industry strategy, which complements and builds on national initiatives and is part of our broader plan for building a digital single market (DSM) in Europe.

This idea is to focus on adding European value – for instance by supporting digital innovation hubs, digital industrial platforms and digital skills, and by reducing regulatory barriers.

Better alignment of national strategies on digitising industry is an important aspect of Europe’s future competitiveness. At the moment there are 15 national strategies on digitising industry, with six more expected before the end of this year.

Innovation hubs, for example, will help SMEs to adopt the newest and most suitable digital technologies. They connect businesses to the latest digital technologies and innovative suppliers; they provide expertise as well as access to state-of-the-art test and experimentation facilities.

Digital industrial platforms will act as glue between different technologies and applications. They can facilitate data exchanges, provide common or standard functions, and contain repositories of good practice.

With digital skills, there is a clear need to prepare society for digitalisation. People need to feel that they can cope with the challenges ahead. This is not only about filling existing jobs; it is about making sure Europe has enough digitally skilled workers to fill the many new jobs that the DSM will create.

We know that in the near future 90% of jobs are expected to require some level of digital skills since ICT is not confined to a specific sector and cuts across the entire economy. But in Europe today, one-third of all workers and employees have an insufficient level of digital skills.

Several EU schemes already help people to develop the right digital skills, along with re-skilling and up-skilling as needed.

The most recent of these is the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, designed to develop and expand the pool of European digital talent. It will help to provide people – young and old, employed and jobseekers – with the skills that they need to use digital technologies and be able to apply them in a working environment.

Going digital is a complex operation and almost every aspect of our lives is affected. I am sure that digitalisation will be a huge success for European industry and European businesses.

This is our objective in the DSM strategy: to keep high-quality industrial activities in Europe and to maintain their relevance in the global economy and marketplace.

Our approach aims to give European industry the chance to be at the cutting edge of technological progress: to get ahead, to prepare for the future by removing the barriers of the past and present.

This report is a welcome contribution to the ongoing policy debate on digitalisation, and explores the many legal, economic, social, cultural and moral questions that need to be addressed as we move into the exciting era of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

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