The coronavirus pandemic has proved the benefits of digitalisation in our everyday lives, and why Europe’s human-centred digital transition is the right way forward. This transition is the foundation on which the four pillars of Europe's Digital Decade stand:
- empowering citizens with digital skills
- digitalising businesses
- digitalising public services
- strengthening digital infrastructure
After all, the freedom to connect with friends and family across borders must be a right, not a privilege. This is why, in January 2022, the Commission proposed a draft declaration on European digital rights and principles. This proposal follows a number of major pieces of EU legislation that are building a safer and freer digital space, in Europe and beyond, and which seek to protect our fundamental rights and data.
The Commission released its highly anticipated draft of the artificial intelligence (AI) act in April 2021. It represents the world’s most forward-looking attempt to regulate AI technologies, setting out a risk-based cross-sectoral regulatory approach for the use of AI systems in the EU and its single market.
It aims to make AI rules consistent across the EU and thereby ensure legal certainty, encourage investment and innovation in AI and build public trust that AI systems are used in ways that respect European values and fundamental rights.
In Autumn 2021, the Commission, together with the European Parliament and Council, agreed on the Data Governance Act, which increases trust in data sharing. It was complemented in February 2022 by a proposal for a data act, setting out new rules on who can use and access data generated in the EU across all economic sectors. The Commission is also establishing common European data spaces in strategic domains, involving private and public actors.
In March 2022, the EU reached a milestone agreement on the digital markets act, which regulates the activities of large digital platforms, or ‘gatekeepers’, to ensure that the European digital single market is open and fair.
These gatekeepers will be subject to a number of clearly defined obligations and prohibitions that prevent large digital companies from abusing their market power and allow new players to enter the market. With the digital markets act, the Commission will be the world’s first enforcer of big tech market regulation covering numerous practices and digital services.
Another milestone agreement was reached in April 2022 on the digital services act, a world-first in the field of digital regulation. This act follows the principle that what is illegal offline must also be illegal online: very large online platforms and search engines will have to protect their users from illegal content, goods and services. Moreover, online platforms and search engines will be required to assess and mitigate the broader harms that their activities and algorithms may pose to fundamental rights, children’s well-being and civic discourse.
Both the digital markets act and the digital services act will enter into force this year and be applicable in 2023.
The European chips act proposal, adopted by the Commission in February 2022, is a flagship project for the EU’s digital transformation.
There is no digital future without chips. They are in our phones, computers, cars, medical devices and all connected appliances.
The ongoing supply-chain disruptions caused by the pandemic have reinforced the need to invest: We need to return Europe to the forefront of semiconductor design and production.
In January 2021, the Commission and the European Central Bank agreed to work together to study design options and related regulatory implications of the digital euro. A digital form of central bank money would offer greater choice to consumers and businesses in situations where physical cash cannot be used. The digital euro could complement cash and responds to new payment needs around the world.
The EU is also the first regulator in the world to protect its citizens against some risks associated with crypto-asset investments, in a bid to preserve financial stability, while allowing for innovation in the sector. In June 2022, EU co-legislators reached a landmark agreement on the Commission’s proposed crypto-assets regulation.
In the meantime, the EU's space programme already provides prized data and services for a wide array of daily applications, from supporting commercial transportation and personal navigation, to allowing for precision agriculture and providing solutions to climate change. In February 2022, the European Commission proposed two new flagship initiatives to boost satellite-based secure connectivity and space traffic management.
The EU–US Trade and Technology Council, established in June 2021, offers an effective platform for coordinating approaches and deepening cooperation on key digital, technological, economic and trade issues.
New initiatives have been announced on supply chains, food security, emerging technology, digital infrastructure and trade. These initiatives will:
- reinforce our shared democratic values
- bolster transatlantic global competitiveness
- benefit workers and families on both sides of the Atlantic
- shape the global digital and technological transition
The European Union is working also with other like-minded partners across the world to shape global rules in the digital sphere. We are upgrading digital relationships with key partners to set the rules for digital trade, linking this to the projection of our internal reforms. A digital partnership has been concluded with Japan at the EU-Japan summit in May 2022, and similar negotiations are ongoing with Singapore and South Korea.
Horizon Europe is the largest transnational research and innovation programme in the world, with €95.5 billion in funding for the period up to 2027.
Under this flagship programme, the Commission established the European Innovation Council to support game changing innovations throughout the lifecycle.
Meanwhile, the new European innovation agenda was adopted in July 2022, and included five major flagship programmes to make the EU the global leader in deep-tech innovation.
It has the potential to mobilise around €45 billion from private institutional investors to support scale-ups. In addition, the agenda will establish a programme to train 1 million individuals in deep-tech skills.
The Commission is also strengthening efforts to pioneer green technology projects with the launch of EU–Catalyst, a new partnership aimed at boosting and scaling-up investments in high-impact EU-based projects in critical climate technologies (green hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuels, direct air capture and long-duration energy storage). The partnership was launched at COP26, and has the potential to mobilise up to €840 million by 2026.