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Digital Europe: the EU’s response to the challenges of digitization
The Digital Europe Program is a new European Union funding program focused on digital transformation. It aims to bring digital technology to businesses, citizens and public administrations.
Indeed, technology and digital infrastructures play a key role in our lives and work environments. As highlighted by the European Commission, they allow us to communicate, work, make scientific discoveries and tackle environmental problems. At the same time, the pandemic has shown how important it is for Europe not to depend on systems and solutions based in other regions of the world.
In this context, the Digital Europe Program aims to accelerate economic recovery and supports the digital transformation of the European society and economy, bringing benefits to all, in particular to small and medium-sized enterprises.
The initiative is complementary to a number of other programs in support of digital transformation, such as:
- Horizon Europe: the European Union framework program for research and innovation for the period 2021-2027;
- Connecting Europe Facility (CEF): it promotes investments in strategic infrastructures, such as broadband and 5G;
- EU4Health: the investment program for the digitalisation of the health sector;
- InvestEU: brings together the financial instruments aimed at supporting decisive investments for European economic growth;
- Recovery and Resilience Facility (RFF): the key tool of the Next Generation EU plan which provides a total of 723.8 billion euros for the recovery of the Member States after the pandemic;
- The digital transformation strategy of the agricultural sector: aims to exploit Big Data for the common agricultural policy (CAP);
- The cohesion policy of the European Union: in reference to the development of the connectivity network (to reduce inequalities between member countries), support for businesses and the development of digital skills.
The reference framework is the MFF (Multiannual Financial Framework), that is the multi-annual budget of the EU, which outlines the strategies and resources available for the period 2021-2027.
What are the objectives of Digital Europe?
With an overall budget of € 7.5 billion, Digital Europe will support projects in five key areas:
- High performance computing: the goal is to increase accessibility and expand the use of supercomputing in areas of public interest such as health, environment, safety and industry, including small and medium-sized enterprises. To do so, the EU’s supercomputing and data processing capacities must be strengthen by purchasing world-class exascale supercomputers by 2022/2023;
- Artificial Intelligence: the goal is to strengthen existing AI structures, making them accessible to all businesses and public administrations in Europe and launching experiments in sectors such as health and mobility. In addition, it is essential to create a European data space to facilitate secure access and storage of large data thanks to a reliable and energy-efficient cloud infrastructure;
- Cybersecurity: As more and more services are online, cybersecurity has become crucial. Digital Europe will invest in the construction of European cybersecurity infrastructures and will promote the dissemination and adoption of cutting-edge practices and equipment. These are fundamental steps for building the EU’s digital sovereignty which is based on the integrity and resilience of data infrastructures, networks and communications. The cybersecurity objectives of the program will be managed by the European Cybersecurity Industrial, Technology and Research Competence Center in collaboration with a network of national centers;
- Advanced digital skills: the aim is to promote the development of advanced digital skills on topics such as IT Security, Artificial Intelligence and High performance computing, through training activities for students and professionals. In addition, the Digital Europe Program will support the updating of the existing workforce through training courses in key areas;
- Development and interoperability of digital capacity: the aim is to ensure a wide use of digital technologies throughout the economy and society, including through Digital Innovation Hubs, by strengthening European digital infrastructures in line with regional and national actions in support of the European Green Deal. The program supports the adoption of advanced digital technologies by industry, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises, the digital transformation of public administration, the creation of a European infrastructure for Blockchain, the creation of a digital ecosystem for e-Government services and all actions to build and strengthen citizens’ trust in digital services.
What are Digital Innovation Hubs?
European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs) will help companies dynamically respond to digital challenges and become more competitive.
In other words, they will allow companies, especially SMEs, to improve business / production processes, products and services thanks to digital technologies. Environmental issues will also be considered, especially with regard to energy consumption and low carbon emissions.
Additionally, the EDIHs will provide innovation services, such as financial advisory, training, and skills development, necessary for a successful digital transformation.
How will the EDIHs work? The European Digital Innovation Hubs will have both local and European functions. EU funding will be made available to hubs that are already (or will be) supported by their member states (or regions), in order to increase the impact of public funding.
The Digital Europe program will increase hubs’ capabilities to manage activities with clear European added value, based on linking hubs and promoting the transfer of skills.
Member States play an essential role in the EDIHs selection process. In fact, the initial network of EDIHs will be created starting from a list of hubs chosen by the Member States themselves.
The total resources made available amounted to € 329.3 million, to be disbursed at two different times. The first call opened on November 17, 2021 and ended on the following February 22. The second call will open in the third quarter of 2022 and will end in the fourth quarter of the same year.