The Commission has adopted the first three work programmes for its Digital Europe Programme, totalling almost €2 billion in green and digital transition funding.
The three packages will focus on strategic investment in AI, common data spaces, cybersecurity, and digital skills sharing. One of the packages is also dedicated to setting up and maintaining a network of Digital Innovation Hubs to support digitalisation.
The funding aims to realise the EU’s Digital Decade goals and meet what the Commission describes as the “twin challenges for our generation” — making Europe greener and more digital — while boosting technological sovereignty.
Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director General of DIGITALEUROPE, a trade association representing digitally transforming industries, told EURACTIV that she was “very pleased to see the Digital Europe programme launched. It is the first of its kind, and that’s why it’s so important that we spend it wisely and that industry is closely involved.”
”In future years we hope to see more money put towards these goals”, she said, adding “it will be imperative to link these funds with other initiatives across the Commission and in the Member States, for example, Horizon Europe, the Connecting Europe Facility Digital (CEF) and the National Recovery and Resilience plans.”
The Digital Europe Programme promises €7.5 billion over seven years to boost Europe’s competitiveness and secure technological sovereignty while helping to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, as set out in the EU Green Deal.
The largest of the three newly-approved work programmes, with a total investment of €1.98 billion, will allocate €1.38 billion on areas including AI, cloud technologies and quantum communication infrastructure by the end of next year.
Among its initiatives will be the bolstering of trusted AI in tackling key societal issues, including climate change and the delivery and maintenance of cross-border systems to support public administration, such as the proposed European Digital Identity service. This initiative would allow for the storing and access of official documents in electronic form.
The programme will also focus on fostering common data spaces for sectors such as manufacturing and finance to ease cross-border data sharing for businesses and the public sector.
There has been a longstanding push for the development of common data spaces within the EU. Still, concerns have lingered, particularly among smaller European businesses, about the implications of the increased sharing of data.
The Data Governance Act, the general approach adopted by all 27 EU Ambassadors last month, seeks to address this by creating a framework for data sharing markets that will contain, for example, common standards and provisions for interoperability.
Cybersecurity and skills
The other two work programmes focus on more specific areas: cybersecurity, for which €269 million has been allocated until the end of 2022, and European Digital Innovation Hubs, which will receive €329mn by the end of 2023.
The cybersecurity programme will focus on developing and rolling out the equipment and infrastructure needed to better tackle cyber threats and pool best practices and knowledge from within the EU.
Digital information and skills-sharing is a key component of all three work packages, with master courses in technologies and their business application also included in the first programme. Skills are also one of the four points of the Commission’s “Digital Compass” for the Digital Decade, with the overall target of ensuring that at least 80% of the EU’s population has basic digital capabilities by 2030.
The third programme will direct funds towards deploying a network of Digital Innovation Hubs across the EU, designed to provide technical expertise, training and testing at both European and national levels, particularly for small businesses.
The programme said Margrethe Vestager, the Commission’s vice-president for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, “invests to ensure that Europeans can get the right skills to participate in the labour market actively. The aim is that everyone in Europe – citizens, businesses and administrations – can benefit from market-ready technological solutions.”
The programmes’ focus on skills, Bonefeld-Dahl of DIGITALEUROPE added, was “very welcome.”
“We have to be able to teach our children to be the creators of technology in the future, and not just users”, she said. “In addition, our green and digital transitions will only succeed and be inclusive if we give all citizens the skills they need to take part.”
[Edited by Alice Taylor]