Data shows mixed situations in Member States on digital transition – EURACTIV.com

The European Commission has set a number of targets for the digital transition of member states as part of the EU’s ‘2030 digital compass’, and the annual progress report, released on November 12, showed results mixed feelings throughout the block.

The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2021 assesses the digital performance of the 27 Member States.

This year’s edition of the index has been adjusted to reflect the four cardinal points of the “Digital Compass”: skills, infrastructure, digital transformation of businesses and public services. This strategy, presented in March, set quantified targets that European states should achieve by the end of the decade.

In September, the Commission launched the proposal for a governance framework that would use the DESI index to monitor progress and develop recommendations based on individual country performance.

“The message from this year’s index is positive, all EU countries have made progress to become more digital and more competitive, but more can be done,” said Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the Digital Commission.

She stressed that Brussels must work with Member States “to ensure that key investments are made through the recovery and resilience mechanism in order to deliver the best digital opportunities”. A minimum of 20% of the stimulus fund money is intended to be invested for this purpose.

Denmark, Sweden and Ireland took the lead in the 2021 overall standings while Greece, Bulgaria and Romania came last. Note that the index uses data from 2020.

Despite the overall progress and future improvements that the COVID-19 pandemic has left in its wake, significant gaps remain between different countries.

Skills

As part of the commitments proposed in the EU’s Digital Compass 2030, at least 80% of the bloc’s citizens are expected to have basic digital skills. It is “a range of abilities to use digital devices, communication applications and networks to access and manage information”, in the words of UNESCO.

So far, only the Nordic countries, Germany and the Netherlands have passed the 70% threshold while Bulgaria and Romania lag behind with less than one in three people having basic digital skills .

Finland and Sweden also have the largest share of information and communication technology (ICT) specialists among their workforce, with 7.6% and 7.5% respectively. The digital compass targets 20 million ICT workers by 2030.

A secondary objective of the EU strategy is gender convergence and currently Bulgaria, Greece and Romania are the only countries where the share of women in ICT is above 25%.

Infrastructure

Another goal is to have “gigabit for everyone, 5G everywhere”. By 2030, EU citizens should be able to benefit from 5G coverage and Ultra High Capacity Network (VHCN) wherever they are.

The report shows significant variations from country to country for the two. However, the data used in this case is from the first half of 2020, when many countries had yet to start rolling out 5G.

As for VHCN, or optical fiber in most cases, there are significant inequalities. Malta has 100% coverage of its homes with HCVN, while only 10% of the Greek population has access.

If in the case of Malta, this is explained by its small territory – making it easy to cover – other countries also offer very high coverage, such as Denmark (94%) and Spain (92%).

Business

By 2030, at least 90% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the EU are expected to use digital technologies. By 2020, according to the index, only 60% of European SMEs had reached this level of basic digital intensity.

Denmark, Finland, Spain and Sweden have passed the 80% mark while around a third of companies in Bulgaria and Romania use digital technologies.

As for the use of Big data, artificial intelligence (AI) or the cloud, different trends have emerged.

The Nordic countries and Western Europe appear to be more inclined to use big data, while the Czech Republic and Austria lead the rankings when it comes to their businesses using AI.

The biggest gap, however, concerns the use of cloud computing. Almost two-thirds of French companies do so, while this figure stands at around 14% and 13% respectively for Polish and Romanian companies.

Public services

Finally, the digital compass sets the goal that all key public services for citizens are fully online by 2030.

Again, there are discrepancies between Member States. While a number of countries are already close to achieving this goal, a few are still only halfway or even further away, such as Romania, with only 44% of its administrative procedures being able to be carried out in line.

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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