The EU is aiming to support the digitisation of its economies and societies by setting up a new funding programme, Digital Europe, for the years 2021 to 2027. On 13 March the Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee confirmed the common understanding reached by the Romanian presidency and the European Parliament on the proposal, which aims to promote the large-scale roll-out and uptake of key digital technologies such as artificial intelligence applications and state-of-the-art cybersecurity tools. The common understanding explicitly excludes budget-related and horizontal issues however. Those are being discussed as part of the negotiations on the EU’s next multiannual financial framework (MFF) for the period 2021 to 2027.
Alexandru Petrescu, Minister for Communications and Information Society of Romania, President of the Council, argues that “Digital Europe will help European businesses, especially smaller ones, benefit from the vast opportunities of digital transformation, scale up and gain a competitive edge. At the same time, it will have a significant impact on bridging the digital divide so that everybody has the skills and knowledge to participate fully in a digitised society. The programme will also foster greater professionalism taking into account gender balance, especially with regard to high performance and cloud computing, big data analytics and cybersecurity”.
The Digital Europe programme will provide funding for projects supercomputing, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, advanced digital skills, and ensuring wide use of digital technologies across the economy and society.The EU consider that funding for projects to build up high-performance computing will benefit areas such as healthcare, environment and security.
The programme will support advanced digital skills training for the workforce and students, as well as for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and public administrations. The provision of financing will help ensure that people have easy, trusted and seamless access to digital public services, for instance by enhancing the EU-wide interoperability of public services.
A network of planned European Digital Innovation Hubs will aim to provide access to technological expertise for businesses – in particular SMEs – and public administrations. The plan is for the hubs to bring together industry, businesses and administrations in need of new technological solutions on the one hand, and companies that have market-ready solutions, on the other. With a broad geographical coverage across Europe, the EU aims for the hubs to play a central role in the implementation of the programme.
The aim is for Digital Europe to complement other EU programmes supporting digital transformation, including Horizon Europe and the digital aspects of the Connecting Europe Facility.
The Council expects the negotiations with the next European Parliament to start as soon as possible, with a view to being finalised on the basis of the progress achieved as reflected in the common understanding. Negotiations will also need to consider the overall agreement on the multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027.