The importance of technology, connectivity and cybersecurity in everyday life was highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The introduction of lockdowns to prevent the virus spreading meant society became dependent on digital technologies like never before.
Millions of people learned how to work remotely from home while computers and mobile devices became essential for shopping, socialising and learning activities.
The pandemic experience has provided new perspectives on both the incredible possibilities and potential vulnerabilities of technology and digitisation.
The world we live in is being rapidly transformed with faster, more reliable networks providing instant access to valuable tools for education, work and health.
However, there are also threats such as fake news on social media, unethical hacking and abuse of personal and private data and online harassment that have to be curtailed.
Society is still adapting to this new digital era, and the European Commission has made creating a Europe fit for the digital age one of its main priorities for 2019-2024.A Europe fit for the digital age
The European Commission has set up a ‘Digital Compass’ that translates the EU’s digital ambitions into concrete targets to be achieved over the decade up to 2030.
The rights and freedoms of citizens must be protected during the digital transition and a framework of principles is being developed to help promote and uphold EU core values in the digital space.
To rise up to the challenges of the 21st Century - climate change and an increasingly polarised world order - we need the full power of the digital revolution at our backs.
Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age
Digital Decade targets for 2030 include:
- At least 80% of all adults should have basic digital skills, and there should be 20 million employed ICT specialists in the EU, with more women taking up these positions;
- All EU households should have gigabit connectivity and all populated areas should be covered by 5G;
- Three out of four companies should use cloud computing services, big data and Artificial Intelligence, and more than 90% of SMEs should have at least a basic level of digital intensity;
- All key public services should be available online and all citizens should have access to their e-medical records.
To reach the objectives set out by the Digital Compass, the European Commission is accelerating the launch of multi-country projects that will develop pan-European technologies and digital infrastructure.
These will be funded by combining investments from the EU budget, Member States and industry. Member States are committed to dedicate at least 20% of their Recovery and Resilience Plans to the digital priority.
The European Union has already made progress in bringing technology closer to people, while ensuring privacy and data rights are respected.
One of the most visible benefits of EU Digital Strategy has been the elimination of mobile phone roaming charges. Since 2017 phone calls, SMS messaging and going online with your mobile phone are all covered by your mobile subscription, wherever you travel in the EU.
Unjustified geographically based restrictions – or geoblocking - that undermine online shopping and cross-border sales also ended in 2018.
New rules are now being introduced to make charging electronic devices including smartphones easier. By the end of 2024 USB type-C will be the common charging standard, meaning consumers won’t need multiple charging cables for different devices.
The European Commission’s Digital Markets Act aimed at making online platforms safer and more accountable has also been adopted.
The act introduces rules for digital platforms - including those run by large tech companies - that act as ‘gatekeepers’ in the digital sector. These rules will prevent identified gatekeepers from imposing unfair conditions on businesses and individual users and ensure openness and competitiveness in important digital services.
Similarly, the Digital Services Act will impose rules regulating digital services that act as intermediaries within the EU to connect consumers with goods, services and content.
The rules will apply to hosting services, marketplaces, and online platforms that offer services in the EU. The act will impose obligations on these services aimed at ensuring they protect fundamental European and consumer rights and are free from illegal content.
Every day terabytes of information passes across the internet including private, personal data.
Under EU rules personal data can only be gathered for a legitimate purpose, under strict legal conditions, and anybody who collects and manages personal information must protect it from misuse.
Data protection has been enhanced across the EU through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This regulation gives individuals the right to request a copy of any personal data organisations may be holding about them. Citizens also have the right to have their data erased swiftly under the GDPR, and companies and organisations have to follow strict rules when it comes to data processing.
The European Commission is proposing new cybersecurity rules that will also protect consumers and businesses from digital products that are vulnerable to hacking.
Vulnerability in a single product can allow cybercriminals access networks and carry out ransomware attacks, steal personal data or disrupt supply chains across Europe.
The new rules will require all digital products to have mandatory cybersecurity requirements throughout their whole lifecycle and oblige manufacturers to report actively exploited vulnerabilities and incidents.
Ireland’s digital ranking
The European Commission monitors the digital progress of Member States through annual Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) reports. Ireland ranks 5th of the 27 EU Member States in the DESI report for 2022.
Ireland’s average yearly growth of its DESI score between 2017 and 2022 is one of the highest in the EU and the share of Irish people with basic digital skills and digital content creation skills, as well as the share of ICT specialists, both male and female, is above the EU average.
The DESI index uses four indicators to measure digital performance - Connectivity, Human Capital, Integration of Digital Technology, and Digital Public Services. This is how Ireland is performing under each indicator.
- Connectivity: Ireland ranks 6th among EU countries with 98% Mobile broadband take-up and 89% Very High-Capacity Network (VHCN) coverage. However, take-up for at least 1 Gbps services remains low (4.27%) and at current pace, Ireland will not achieve 2025 targets due to delays implementing the National Broadband Plan.
- Human Capital: Ireland is among the top performers in the EU, ranking 3rd out of the 27 Member States. A total of 70% of people have at least basic digital skills, 40% have above basic digital skills, and 77% have at least basic digital content creation skills, compared to the EU average of 54%, 26% and 66% respectively.
- Integration of Digital Technology: The use of digital technologies is reasonably widespread among businesses in Ireland, and the country ranks 7th in the EU.
- Digital Public Services: Ireland ranks 6th in the EU when it comes to digital public services with the share of e-government users standing at 92%.
Digital strategy for Ireland
Ireland’s National Digital Strategy, ‘Harnessing Digital – The Digital Ireland Framework’ was launched in 2022 and is aligned with EU priorities contained in the European Commission’s proposed 2030 Policy Programme ‘Path to the Digital Decade’.
Ireland also adopted a 10-year Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy Strategy in 2021 and a new Digital Strategy for Schools to 2027 was published in April 2022.
Ireland is committed to achieving the target of 80% of adults having at least basic digital skills by 2030, and ensuring that all households and businesses are covered by a Gigabit network by 2028 and all populated areas have 5G connectivity by 2030.
According to the 2022 DESI Index report, Ireland is considered a forerunner in the EU on the integration of digital technologies, and is expected to make a significant contribution to the collective efforts needed to reach Europe’s Digital Decade targets.