Brussels wants “hard cash” for digital change to keep pace with US, China
The European Commission (EC) has called for both national governments and private enterprises to contribute to the region’s digital transformation programme from 2021. If new finances are not secured from regional administrations and private sources, the progress the region has made with data privacy and cyber-security, and more recently with artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, will count for nothing, it said.
The European Union’s current funding period finishes in 2020; the EC is exploring mechanisms to secure budget for its new digital programme, unveiled yesterday (April 10) in Brussels, which covers major investments in technologies for artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and digital healthcare. These latest initiatives effectively re-tool its agenda for a ‘digital single market’, to enable the digital transformation of the European single market.
Andrus Ansip, vice-president of the EC’s digital change programme, said: “The digital single market creates the right conditions and infrastructure for a functional digital Europe. But none of this comes for free. With financial support, the EU does what it can. But our public purse only goes so far. It represents about one per cent of the wealth that EU economies generate every year. National governments and the private sector need to contribute too.”
He added: “For the digital single market to work for people and business, to advance on our digital priorities, to make sure that Europe is a world digital leader: we need hard cash. Blunt, perhaps. But there is no other way of putting it. For that, we need support to fund Europe’s digital future starting from 2021 in the next budget.”
EU member states have signed declarations to jointly tackle challenges of technical interoperability, cultural fragmentation and regulatory uncertainty around new digital technologies. “Without removing barriers that prevent digital growth, without the right legal environment, without adequate investment, Europe will not have much of a digital future,” said Ansip.
The need for national governments and private enterprises to put up funds is urgent, however, if the region is not to cede ground to Asia Pacific and the United States in a rising technological arms race.
“The European tech sector identifies AI and blockchain as the areas where Europe is best positioned to play a leading role. However, it is no secret that we have to invest – both politically and financially. There is quite some ground to catch up. Other continents are moving ahead quickly,” said Ansip.
He used his opening address at the EC’s ‘digital day’ in Brussels to signpost its triumphs on the road to digital transformation in Europe. “Europe needs digital; we all need digital,” he said. In particular, he pointed to the incoming ‘general data protection regulation’ (GDPR), which goes live across all member states next month, and the ‘networks and information systems’ (NIS) directive on cyber-security, which came into force in August 2016.
“We are creating ways for data to flow more freely across Europe,” said Ansip.
“Roaming surcharges have gone. Soon it will be the turn of unjustified geo-blocking to disappear. Since April, people can have access to their video and music subscriptions when they travel around Europe. In the coming weeks, EU countries should agree on a new telecoms policy that will help 5G to become a reality for millions of people and businesses. In short, the digital single market is really starting to happen on the ground.”