The use of digital technology has become such a part of everyday life that it’s hard to imagine a world without the internet, smartphones or GPS navigation.
It has dramatically changed how we live, work and learn making it easier to connect with people, improving workplace productivity, and providing access to vast amounts of academic and research materials.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are also improving healthcare while breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence (AI) promise to aid in the global fight against climate change, poverty, and hunger.
Digital technology is evolving rapidly and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated our use of electronic devices for remote working, online learning and social networks.
Faster, more reliable networks provide incredible possibilities for the future, but vulnerabilities and misuse of technology have also emerged.
Dangerous threats such as fake news on social media, unethical hacking and abuse of personal data and online harassment must be curtailed.
Misinformation and disinformation has distorted facts in relation to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict while experts are warning that the rapid growth of AI could be dangerous.
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.
Under the Digital Decade policy programme, concrete targets and objectives have been set for Europe’s digital transformation.
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 these objectives, 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 Digital Decade Policy Programme is guided by the European Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles, which is the EU's commitment to a secure, safe and sustainable digital transformation.
Europe’s digital transformation presents many challenges that have yet to be overcome, but progress has been made.
The European Commission’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) is making online platforms safer and more accountable.
The Act introduces rules for digital platforms such as search engines, app stores and messenger services run by large tech companies. These companies can be designated as ‘gatekeepers’ by the Commission if they provide an important gateway between businesses and consumers.
The DMA imposes stringent requirements on ‘gatekeepers’ as to how they can and can't operate in the EU market, and it compels them to adopt behaviours that promote openness and competition while avoiding unfair practices.
Similarly, the Digital Services Act (DSA) imposes rules regulating digital services that connect consumers to goods, services and content.
Digital services include a range of internet services, from simple websites to platforms such as online marketplaces, social networks, and online travel and accommodation platforms.
Together, the DMA and the DSA impose obligations aimed at protecting fundamental European consumer rights and ensuring digital platforms and services are free from illegal content.
Europe has become the global pioneer of citizens' rights in the digital world. The Digital Service Act and the Digital Markets Act are creating a safer digital space where fundamental rights are protected. And they are ensuring fairness with clear responsibilities for big tech.
2023 State of the Union Address by President von der Leyen
The European Chips Act has also come into force and €43 billion has been allocated to support the manufacturing of these essential building blocks of digital and digitised products. Recent global chips shortages have disrupted supply chains and the Act will help the European Union to double its current global market share to 20% by 2030.
Even before the introduction of Digital Decade targets the Commission launched several actions that have improved the digital world for European citizens and businesses.
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.
Data protection has also been enhanced across the EU through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which 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, and companies and organisations have to follow strict rules when it comes to data processing.
The Cyber Resilience Act will require all digital products, such as baby monitors, smartwatches and software with a digital component, to have mandatory cybersecurity requirements throughout their whole lifecycle, and it obliges manufacturers to report exploited vulnerabilities and incidents.
New rules are also being introduced to make charging electronic devices like 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 AI Strategy aims at making the EU a world-class hub for Artificial intelligence (AI) and ensuring that it is human-centric and trustworthy.
The Commission is proposing an initiative to open up high-performance supercomputers to European AI start-ups, allowing researchers to substantially shorten development times and make scientific breakthroughs in critical areas such as climate change, infrastructure reconstruction and eHealth.
The Commission will also support the creation of a global panel, gathering scientists, tech companies and experts to identify opportunities and risks related to AI and work with the business sector on minimum global standards for its safe and ethical use.
Citizens and businesses should be able to enjoy the benefits of AI but its rapid development is a cause of concern. Leading developers, academics and experts have warned that mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority in the same way as pandemics and nuclear wars.
The use of artificial intelligence in the EU will be regulated by the AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive AI law. The Act aims to address risks of specific uses of AI, categorising them into four different levels: unacceptable risk, high risk, limited risk, and minimal risk.
The AI Act will apply whenever an AI-based system is used in the EU, regardless of where the operator is based.
State of the Digital Decade
The Digital Decade Policy Programme relies on close cooperation between Member States to ensure collective progress and the annual State of the Digital Decade report shows what progress has been made in reaching targets.
The first report, published in 2023, highlights the need for Member States to accelerate and deepen collective efforts through policy measures and investment. It includes concrete recommendations to Member States ahead of the adoption of their national strategic roadmaps and for their future adjustments.
The 2023 Digital Decade report states that Ireland is expected to make a positive contribution to achieve the EU’s overall digital targets.
Here are some of the findings for Ireland in the report:
- Digital skills: 70% of adults in Ireland have at least basic digital skills, well above the EU average (54%) and close to the EU 2030 target of 80%.
- Digital infrastructure: Fixed very high-capacity network coverage in Ireland has grown steadily over the past three years, from 67% in 2020 to 84% in 2022, making good progress towards the 2030 target of 100%. However, the report recommends that Ireland accelerate its efforts on connectivity infrastructure in regard to 5G and least 1 Gbps broadband connectivity.
- Digitalisation of business: 85% of Irish SMEs demonstrate at least a basic level of digital intensity. This is significantly higher than the EU average of 69% and very close to the 2030 target of more than 90%.
- Digitalisation of public services: The public services provided to business and the general public in Ireland are highly digitalised, with respective scores of 100 and 81. However, Ireland does not yet provide access to electronic health records, hindering progress towards achieving the Digital Decade target of 100%.
The Irish Recovery and Resilience Plan devotes €312 million (32%) to the digital transformation, all of which is expected to be spent in helping achieve the country’s Digital Decade targets.
Ireland’s National Digital Strategy, ‘Harnessing Digital – The Digital Ireland Framework’ was launched in 2022 and is aligned with EU priorities contained in the Digital Decade Policy Programme.
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