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European Commission ready to splash €50bn on transformational digitisation plan

A cloud initiative for scientists and technologists among the developments as digital single market moves intensify

The European Commission (EC) has unveiled a number of measures to digitise industry across Europe, mobilising €50bn of public and private funding to support initiatives around innovation, public services and standards, as well as pilot projects for 5G mobile networks, the internet of things (IoT), big data technologies, security and cloud.

The measures will link up a number of national initiatives, including in France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, and establish a framework across the European Union (EU) to coordinate cross-border work.

The overall plan – which forms the first industry-related initiative of the digital single market programme – will see €37bn go to bolstering digital innovation, €5.5bn for national and regional investment in digital innovation hubs, €6.3bn to set up production of next-generation components, and €6.7bn for a European cloud initiative for use by scientists and technologists.

Brussels believes that the digitisation of products and services within industry – which supports 33 million jobs in the 28 member states – could boost the European economy by up to €110bn. Digital Single Market vice president Andrus Ansip said digital was the industrial revolution of the present day.

“We need the right scale for technologies such as cloud computing, data-driven science and the internet of things to reach their full potential. As companies aim to scale up across the single market, public e-services should also meet today’s needs: be digital, open and cross-border by design. The EU is the right scale for the digital times,” said Ansip.

The EC said it had identified a number of industry sectors that were falling behind in terms of digital transformation, including agriculture, construction, textiles and steel, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Digital Economy and Society commissioner Günther Oettinger added: “Europe has a very competitive industrial base and is a global leader in important sectors. But Europe will only be able to maintain its leading role if the digitisation of its industry is successful and reached fast. Our proposals aim to ensure that this happens. It requires a joint effort across Europe to attract the investments we need for growth in the digital economy.”

Public services and the “once-only” principle

The EC put forward a number of public services measures which it hopes will be up and running by the end of 2017. These include the establishment of a single digital gateway that will allow users to obtain all the information, assistance and trouble-shooting services they need to work effectively across EU borders.

There will also be a pilot project to apply a “once-only” principle for EU businesses, meaning they will only have to fill out paperwork to one public authority to be able to operate in other member states.

It will also help EU members develop cross-border e-health services, and accelerate the transition to e-procurement, e-signatures, and the application of the so-called once-only principle to public procurement as well.

Good for Britain, lowering costs

TechUK head of policy, Charlotte Holloway, said harnessed correctly, digital technologies could help UK manufacturers operating in Europe reduce costs and drive scale, creating new opportunities for growth.

“However, it is important that the European Commission works closely with digital innovators to make this strategy work in practice. For example, the planned ‘free flow of data initiative’ should help Europe compete on a global scale, without separating European data flows from the rest of the world,” she said.

“Important questions remain on liability regimes in the new internet of things and automated devices industries – those can only be overcome through a better understanding of technical feasibility and the latest market developments,” she said. 

John Higgins, director general of DigitalEurope, added: “We are getting to the meat of the Digital Single Market now.

“The technology package unveiled doesn’t rush to regulate, which is welcome. For Europe to successfully transition to a digital economy there needs to be a policy framework in place that stimulates innovation, rather than stifling it,” he added. 

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