What’s holding Europe back in realising its Digital Decade targets?
Eva: While we have progressed a lot over the years, we still need to remove several barriers that exist, to bring new companies and start-ups onto a level playing field. One key point is to address geo-blocking and its impacts on the EU digital services market; another is how we define industry dominance and competition law in the era of big data. It is also crucial we develop the necessary tools to enable more cross-border funding of industry 4.0 start-ups, and that we share the risk of developing these new technologies as the whole of Europe.
Murielle: Put simply, Europe isn’t moving consistently enough or fast enough. On the current trajectory, Europe will reach 60 per cent low latency 5G coverage more than 10 years after China. We will have a patchwork European 5G network which is not good enough for a technology that has the potential to transform every industry. Governments need to remove policy barriers and incentivise investments at unprecedented levels.
On the current trajectory, Europe will reach 60 per cent low latency 5G coverage more than 10 years after China....
Where do you see the biggest short-term benefits of greater connectivity and digitalisation?
Murielle: Connectivity can benefit everyone from school children to farmers, hospitals to car manufacturers and enterprises to educators. Overall, new digital technologies could amount to a €2.2 trillion GDP contribution to the EU by 2030.
Eva: Increased connectivity and digitalisation will greatly empower citizens and give their businesses greater resilience to future developments and challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven as much, with many SMEs turning to digitalized services at the height of the pandemic to maintain some level of income. By giving our citizens greater freedoms of choice and expression, greater connectivity and digitalisation will also reinforce the important principles of technological and net neutrality and promote a more democratic digital environment. This is also crucial to the EU’s aim of harmonising the digital and green transformations, which are key to both Europe’s present and its future.
How do we ensure the benefits of digitalisation are fairly distributed?
Eva: Two key ways in which we can ensure a fair distribution of benefits are by ensuring that citizens acquire greater digital literacy, as well as by developing an ethical and legal framework for the technologies that industry 4.0 will produce. While some critics may say that Europe is falling behind other actors due to its regulations, there is a good reason for this. We take a more careful approach with respect to the rights of the individual person and their privacy, and we try to remove any discrimination or inequalities, wherever they appear in the innovative process. This way Europe can make these new technologies benefit all our citizens equally.
Murielle: Right now, there is a serious risk that some people in our society and some businesses in Europe will be left behind. At Vodafone, our inclusion for all strategy seeks to address this by focusing on overcoming the five key barriers that create the digital divide. These include coverage, access to devices, affordability, digital skills, and creating relevant products and services for those most at risk of being unconnected, such as the elderly and women.
Increased connectivity and digitalisation will greatly empower citizens and give their businesses greater resilience
to future developments and challenges...Eva Kaili
How can government and the private sector work together to solve the roadblocks to faster digitalisation?
Murielle: Collaboration is key. There needs to be an urgency in Europe to unleash the power of the single market – but this will only happen if all EU Member States prioritise the deployment of 5G. One area we must address is minimising red tape. We believe the Connectivity Infrastructure Act could be a lifeline for the much-needed simplicity, consistency, and speed Europe needs.
Eva: It is crucial that we think about how we can support cross-border cooperation and how we can achieve a digital single market; Investments are key to this. We should make sure to get more out of our investments and we must stop talking about start-ups while treating them as SMEs. If we want to work more closely together with the start-up landscape and be successful in bringing more sustainable technologies to the market, we have to make the right definitions and act accordingly. Continued public-private dialogue with both start-ups and established companies stands central to the success of these developments
Are you optimistic about the future?
Eva: We are rapidly closing the gap between what human and machine intelligence can accomplish. We must be conscious of the challenges closing the gap will pose, and we have to be fast and smart about how we use these technologies before they exacerbate inequalities. Artificial Intelligence is also already transforming every sector of our lives, presenting us with both known and unknown opportunities and challenges. Technologies need to complement us and be humancentric. In the era of super connectivity, it’s important to translate our principles, values and respect of rights also online. Europe’s technological future must be guided towards greater equality and inclusiveness, and while that will not be easy, I am convinced that through public-private cooperation and dialogue, we will be able to.
Murielle: Yes. There are some amazing examples of what can be done when we come together. For example, in Spain we have seen the government commit to use €4.8bn of its EU Recovery funds to support SME digitisation. The scheme was developed through the collaboration of government, industry and SMEs to ensure it was fit for purpose. If other markets can learn from this, we can make real progress.
About the authors
Murielle Lorilloux is EU Cluster and Enterprise Americas & Asia Pacific Director, Vodafone Business and was formerly President of the Board and CEO of Vodafone Romania. She has over 23 years of telecommunications experience at CEO level.
Eva Kaili is Vice-President of the European Parliament (EP), Chair of the Working Group on ICT Innovation Strategy and responsible for the EP’s work on corporate social responsibility and the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA). She has been a member of the European Parliament since 2014.
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, digitisation, energy efficiency and security challenges.