Unlocking the benefits of digitalisation

With digitalisation recently declared a trillion Euro opportunity for Europe, the time is now for reforms and targets, say Ben Wreschner, Chief Economist at Vodafone, and Dharmendra Kanani, Director and Chief Spokesperson at Friends of Europe.
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By Ben Wreschner & Dharmendra Kanani

Ben Wreschner is Chief Economist at Vodafone, and Dharmendra Kanani is Director at Friends of Europe.

29 Mar 2021

WITH THE RECOVERY AND RESILIENCE FACILITY IN MIND, WHERE DO YOU SEE THE POTENTIAL FOR INCREASED DIGITALISATION?

Dharmendra Kanani: The health and economic crises will further focus the minds of governments and citizens to increase digitalisation in particular in health and education provision. Aligned to this will be the need to improve the accuracy, privacy and sharing of data.

Ben Wreschner: The Recovery and Resilience Fund is the oil in the engine of recovery. However, early indications from the national recovery plans so far suggest insufficient focus on the policy reforms needed to drive digitalisation progress. A key challenge is that State Aid rules may currently restrict Member States from using recovery funds to accelerate 5G rollouts to rural areas. Progress may also be stifled by the fact that policy reforms to crowd-in private investment are lacking. We are sure Parliament will want to pay close attention to both these issues. In short, we are in a good place to start, but recovery funds must be coupled with the right legislative framework to enable digital and green investment in the right areas.

DIGITAL AND GREEN ARE KEY PILLARS FOR OUR RECOVERY. HOW WILL CONNECTED EUROPE ENSURE STAKEHOLDERS REMAIN ON COURSE FOR IMPLEMENTING CHANGE IN THESE AREAS?

Ben Wreschner: We know that digital has a major role to play in delivering the Green Deal. To achieve this, we need a proper monitoring framework. The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), if expanded to include the critical green agenda, is the best focus for those targets and measurement. Furthermore, the 20 percent digitalisation and 37 percent green targets will certainly help to ensure the Commission and Member States are held to account and implement the right policy reforms.

“There is a digital dividend waiting for the citizens of Europe if we invest in digitalisation”

Ben Wreschner, Chief Economist at Vodafone

Dharmendra Kanani: The European Commission and Members States are responsible for ensuring stakeholders remain on course through conditionality and scrutiny processes. Connected Europe enables an alternative, outside of government perspective to ensure the views of citizens and other stakeholders are at the heart of discussions on enabling a successful, green and resilient Europe. In this way, we are influencing and shaping the course of the Member States and the EU to ensure a digital and green recovery.

ONE OF THE PARTICULAR FEATURES OF CONNECTED EUROPE IS THE ENGAGEMENT OF CITIZENS IN THE FORMATION OF DIGITALISATION RECOMMENDATIONS. SO FAR, WHAT HAS BEEN THE FEEDBACK FROM THIS AUDIENCE?

Dharmendra Kanani: We’ve been running a series of online focus groups with a diverse mix of over 250 citizens from 16 European countries. The feedback so far suggests that Europe could compete in the global digital arena as something of a ‘premium’ brand. Citizens want ‘Made in Europe’ to stand for quality, in terms of strict privacy and data protection, longer product lifespans, greater environmental sustainability and an emphasis on quality of life. They are also concerned about fairness and the digital divide, and many said they are willing to sacrifice a certain amount of privacy for convenience and cost as long as the result is greater quality.

“Connected Europe enables an alternative, outside of government perspective to ensure the views of citizens and other stakeholders are at the heart of discussions on enabling a successful, green and resilient Europe”

Dharmendra Kanani, Director and Chief Spokesperson at Friends of Europe

VODAFONE HAS PUBLICLY STATED ITS AMBITION FOR MEMBER STATES TO ACHIEVE 90 OUT OF 100 ON THE DIGITAL ECONOMY AND SOCIETY INDEX (DESI) BY 2027, IS THAT REALISTIC GIVEN WHERE COUNTRIES ARE RIGHT NOW?

Ben Wreschner: It’s challenging, but we believe a DESI score of 90 by 2027 is realistic. Frankly, it’s something that we must make happen because the benefits of achieving it are so significant. The Deloitte report, Digitalisation: An Opportunity for Europe, has recently shown that achieving 90 on DESI could boost the European Union’s GDP per capita by 7.2 percent – equivalent to a €1 trillion increase in overall GDP. Unsurprisingly, some Member States – typically those with low GDP per capita – have further to go than others, but the good news is that those same states stand to be the biggest beneficiaries. Now each Member State needs to develop national plans for meetings its own targets.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2030, WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO SEE IN THE AREA OF DIGITALISATION?

Dharmendra Kanani: By 2030 we should have a data sharing protocol in place across Europe that underpins a fully functioning digital single market. We would have a digital EU-wide trading passport for business, an EU portal for qualifications and skills accreditation to facilitate better mobility and employability, online learning as a hybrid education and life learning model as well as a digital Erasmus for young people not in education and employment. Digital innovation and enterprise tax breaks would be commonplace, as would digital health passports and city-wide digital dashboards.

Ben Wreschner: It’s exciting to imagine a world where telemedicine would increase life expectancy and reduce health costs, smart cities would save energy, rural communities would be reinvigorated, and new jobs created. There is a digital dividend waiting for the citizens of Europe if we invest in digitalisation. The success of the Digital Decade and Europe’s recovery depends on our collective efforts to maximise the impact of public and crowd-in private investment. That is why we formed this partnership with Friends of Europe and why we look forward to working with Members of the European Parliament to make the benefits of digitalisation a reality.

ABOUT CONNECTED EUROPE
Connected Europe is a partnership between Friends of Europe and Vodafone that aims to foster a successful, green and resilient digital transformation in Europe.

ABOUT BEN WRESCHNER

Ben Wreschner is the Chief Economist and Head of Public Affairs, Vodafone Group. Ben has been in the Digital sector for 20 years. He has worked extensively in the Brussels environment representing Vodafone at key meetings with various institutions (European Commission, European Parliament, European Council, BEREC) and industry bodies. Ben holds a BSc (Econ) from the London School of Economics.

ABOUT DHARMENDRA KANANI

Prior to joining Friends of Europe, Dharmendra Kanani was director of policy at the European Foundation Centre (EFC). He was the England director at the Big Lottery Fund, the largest independent funder in the UK and fourth largest in the world. Dharmendra has held senior positions in the public and voluntary sector and advisor to numerous ministerial policy initiatives across the UK.

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