Digital technologies can help boost Europe’s competitiveness and economic growth, but only if it invests now. Martin Banks reports on this year’s Masters of Digital conference.
If Europe wants to be a digital leader then it must “put its money where its mouth is” and invest in the relevant skills and innovation. Europe will need to invest some €25bn to support the digital transformation of society and boost the use of new technologies by citizens and businesses. This was one of the key messages from the recent “Masters of Digital” event, organised by DIGITALEUROPE.
It urged Member States to allocate a significantly higher proportion of the budget - ten percent rather than the current three percent - for digital policies. This echoes the call in the recently published strategy: “A Stronger Digital Industrial Europe.” The strategy outlines five key areas requiring action, including creating a framework for a European digital transformation, opening up markets and fostering fair global competition, investing in the digital transformation, upskilling the workforce and setting sustainability goals.
European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan noted the close link between trade and digital policy. The EU is the largest exporter of services, meaning that “a digital revolution and digital competitiveness are vital”. He said that the EU is negotiating rules for digital trade at the WTO, but added that “success relies on all-round support” from society and policymakers.
"A digital revolution and digital competitiveness are vital" Phil Hogan, EU Trade Commissioner
Belgian Minister for Digital, Philippe De Backer, announced that the country will invest the proceeds of the recent 5G spectrum auction in developing its digital infrastructure so that “everyone can take advantage of its benefits.” He also addressed concerns that AI and digitisation risked eliminating jobs, saying that “for every job lost because of digitisation, four new jobs will be created.”
In the first session, Huawei’s chief EU representative Abraham Liu said, “Europe has a great opportunity to take advantage of its strong industrial base to become a digital leader,” while Rockwell Automation’s Francesca Tagliani argued that European digital SMEs face difficulty competing, adding, “revenue from start-ups in Europe is half that in the US.” MEP Axel Voss argued that the EU needs to “speed up this process by regulating digitalisation correctly”. All panellists agreed that increasing investment in digital skills and innovation is essential.
Peter Kofler, chairman of the Danish Entrepreneurs Association, said that while Europe had always led in AI, it was increasingly becoming marginalised. “We are struggling and there’s also added uncertainty over regulation.” AI, he believes, is one of “our most powerful tools” for humankind’s longevity and for tackling pressing issues such as climate change.
Addressing “Digital Solutions for the Green Deal”, Hilary Mine, Market Unit Leader for the Nordics, Baltics and Benelux at Nokia, said she was fully aware of “how the climate is in crisis,” adding, “Nokia has taken a serious approach, setting targets to become a zero-emission and circular economy company.” The aim is to cut CO2 emissions on Nokia products by 75 percent, reduce travel and recycle more. “All this costs money so we need the courage and conviction to set the necessary budgets. But Europe is leading on this. It is doing a good job and the Green Deal is a good idea.”
Daniel Mes from Commissioner Frans Timmermans’ cabinet, said that the so-called digital transition “will be tough but we can get it done,” adding, “Those young people who demonstrated on the streets will welcome a debate on what digital technologies can offer. This conference is a call to arms for the tech sector. Climate change is happening, and the digital sector offers solutions. My appeal to the industry is: show us what you can contribute and offer”.
The final session, “Digital 2040: the next 20 years of European Digital Innovation,” heard from Lars Stenqvist, Chief Technology Officer at AB Volvo. He said that estimates show that by 2040, some 9 billion people will live in cities. This inevitably means more transport. “But don’t despair,” he said, “because by then, transport will be zero emission and run on alternative renewable fuels.”
"For every job lost because of digitisation, four new jobs will be created" Philippe De Backer, Belgian Minister for Digital
The final speaker, research Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, stressed the importance of training, reskilling and educating. She told the audience that, “52 percent of the current European workforce in the manufacturing sector will need retraining before 2022.” She highlighted another “gap” - gender equality in the IT sector - saying, “We need role models that inspire young girls to consider a career in IT.”
To address this, Gabriel announced that the Commission will soon publish a new ‘skills agenda’ which, according to her, is about more than “basic” digital skills but rather the need for people to enter the workforce with “more advanced” digital skills. She had special praise for DIGITALEUROPE Director General Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl as a “wonderful role model” for girls. Gabriel told the audience that the IT and digital industry had to “innovate” and take action to reduce “its own carbon footprint.”
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