EC proposes €51.6bn for new industrial transformation tech and infrastructure
The European Commission (EC) has proposed a total budget of €51.5 billion for new technologies and network infrastructure under its next funding cycle, from 2021 to 2027, to drive industrial transformation and technological leadership across the region.
As part of two separate proposals, it has outlined a new Digital Europe programme to boost the region’s digital skills and capacities, with focus on high-performance computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and cyber-security, and a €9.2 billion funding budget for the period to 2027.
It has split the proposed Digital Europe funding along five lines, with €2.7 billion ear-marked for super-computing and data processing, €2.5 billion for AI, €2 billion for cyber-security, €700 million to train the region’s workforce, and €1.3 billion to digitise public administration and public services.
In addition, the EC has proposed €42.3 billion of funding for new infrastructure networks under its Connecting Europe Facility, a 47 per cent jump on the 2014-2020 budget, with €30.6 billion for transport, €8.7 billion for energy and €3 billion for digital infrastructure.
The EC wants agreement from member states on new long-term funding in 2019. It suggested it will supplement funding contributions from the 27 European Union (EU) member states. The Digital Europe initiative will run alongside its Horizon Europe innovation programme, itself set to succeed the existing Horizon 2020 facility from 2021.
“Given the urgency of the situation and the scale of the investment required, there is a strong case for EU intervention to jointly finance and coordinate actions on a scale capable of meeting the challenges brought by the digital transformation,” it said in a statement.
“This should ensure that the benefits of new digital technologies are fully shared. Failing to address the investment gap quickly would risk weakening the EU’s innovation capacity and industrial competitiveness.”
Of the proposed Digital Europe scheme, the €2.7 billion supercomputer fund will stimulate innovation in both the public and private sectors, including among small and medium-sized enterprises, notably in healthcare, energy, car safety and cyber-security, it said.
The EC committed €1 billion in January to build “world-class European supercomputers infrastructure.” Its newest proposal outlines detail plans for exascale computing capabilities, working at a billion billion calculations per second, by 2023, and post exascale facilities by 2027, to provide the EU with its own independent technology supply.
The €2.5 billion AI funding proposal builds on the €1.5 billion injection into Horizon 2020 in April, urging public and private sector at the same time to raise investment in AI technology to €20 billion in the period to the end of 2020. The Digital Europe programme will give better access for public authorities and businesses, including the smallest ones, to AI testing and experimentation facilities.
The EC wants common ‘European libraries’ of algorithms, accessible to all, to help the public and private sectors to identify and acquire AI solutions. Increased investments under Horizon Europe will see the EU stay at the front of scientific and technological developments in AI, it said.
The proposed cyber-security funds follow the first EU-wide legislation on cyber-security, announced in May. New investment in digital skills and e-government will help small and mid-sized enterprises and public administrations access the opportunities offered by super-computing, AI and cyber-security.
Meanwhile, in a parallel announcement, the revised Connecting Europe Facility, worth €42.3 billion, will commit 60 per cent of funds towards climate change initiatives. The Connecting Europe Facility will support “smart, sustainable, inclusive, safe and secure mobility,” it said, which prioritises public transport and charge points for alternative fuels.
It will also enable the creation of an “energy union”, in line with the EC’s “priority” to be the world leader in renewable energy. “To this end, a new strand of the budget will nurture Member State cooperation on cross-border renewable generation projects, in order to promote the strategic uptake of market-ready renewable energy technologies,” it said.
The budget for the digital infrastructure projects under the Connecting Europe Facility will increase to €3 billion. Industrial transformation of sectors like transport, energy, healthcare and public administration depends on universal access to high and very high capacity networks, and digital connectivity infrastructure will remain high on the agenda in the next budget period.
The EC announced a re-tooling of its digital single market agenda in April with new focus on AI, blockchain and digital healthcare technologies. In a flurry of announcements, it said 25 European countries have signed a declaration to jointly develop AI technologies and solutions.