Open Days: Digital technologies can boost growth and jobs

Regional Strategies allow for more work on digital technologies to be done 'collectively', says Khalil Rouhana.

By Khalil Rouhana

06 Oct 2014

The benefits of digital technologies go far beyond web marketing, social networking and new apps; they are laying the ground for Europe's economic recovery. For example, more than 40 per cent of the added value in the automotive sector today comes from integrating digital technologies within the car and the use of digital technologies in the design and production of cars. Car electronics help reduce fuel consumption, increase safety and comfort. Software design tools, robotics and advanced sensors are also radically improving productivity and working conditions.

The automotive sector is just an example. Digital added value applies in all major sectors such as health equipment, aerospace, home appliances, financial services or retail. Digital technologies can help modernise our traditional industries from textile to agro-food and they foster new business sectors in both products and services.

"The EU's approach to making the most of digital technologies involves working in partnerships with multi-stakeholder communities including in public-private partnerships as Europe-wide ecosystems for innovation and business creation"

Key digital technologies such as electronic components, embedded software, networked smart objects, photonics and robotics are at the heart of this process. By mastering these technologies and shaping their development, Europe can get the most out of ICT for its economy and society. This is the path for re-industrialisation, for growth and jobs creation. Europe has a diversified industrial and business basis. By using digital technologies to improve development, specialisation and cooperation across the value chains, we can maximise the benefits from digital innovations.

Regions are a key partner in EU actions and public policy to seize on digital opportunities must address all parts of the digital value chain, from suppliers to end users, and involve all regional, national and EU level stakeholders in the private and public sectors. In this respect, the regions are a key partner to ensure the scale and critical mass of public action and to attract further private investment. Big companies, innovative SMEs and academic excellence are spread in regional clusters.

The EU's approach to making the most of digital technologies involves working in partnerships with multi-stakeholder communities including in public-private partnerships as Europe-wide ecosystems for innovation and business creation. These should help us connect the various parts of value chains addressing both the demand and supply side and involving all actors including SMEs and public organisations. The EU also looks to connect to national and regional development strategies and actions. Experiences in the joint technology initiatives – ENIAC, ARTEMIS, ECSEL – have shown not only the high leverage effect of investments that can be drawn by combining national, regional and EU funding but also the unique alignment of industrial and innovation strategies that it can bring. In addition, efforts are being made to combine policy instruments including the financing of R&D&I (also first production in line with state aid rules), regulation (if needed), coordination and consensus building (standardisation).

"Regions are a key partner in EU actions and public policy to seize on digital opportunities must address all parts of the digital value chain, from suppliers to end users, and involve all regional, national and EU level stakeholders in the private and public sectors"

The commission is already working on a public-private partnership for electronics components and systems (ECSEL) worth €5bn investment, with €1.2 billion invested by the EU. National and regional funding complements the EU public support, leveraging more than €2.5bn in private investment. This initiative is at the core of the electronics strategy for Europe to boost Europe's electronics design and manufacturing capabilities. CEOs from the largest electronics companies in Europe support this strategy which will mobilise €100bn in private investment and create 250,000 jobs in Europe by 2020. Also underway is a public-private partnership in photonics and robotics, each worth €700m EU investment and more than €2.1bn of private investment, as well as new state aid guidelines, clarifying the use of important project of common European interest instruments in order to support pilot line  up to first production capacity through focused investment packages. Similarly, the commission is working on a network of competence centres and innovation experiments for SMEs to develop, integrate and test new ICT products for the benefit of their own products or manufacturing processes. And finally, there is the facilitated access to finance for key enabling technologies through specific actions in photonics, in robotics, and through the European investment bank.

More needs to be done collectively. Regional strategies for key enabling digital technologies are therefore essential. They should include spearheading initiatives showing the way and ensuring the EU's lead in skills and knowledge, facilities, infrastructures and also support for the wide uptake of innovations across Europe in businesses and notably SMEs.

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