Digital Europe Programme – let’s not miss an opportunity

MEP Antanas Guoga opinion on Digital Europe Programme 2021-2027

I was very happy to see the Digital Europe Programme as a solid part of the multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027 proposed by the Commission. It was already the time not only to recognise the potential of new technologies and how they can move forward Europe’s economy, but also to take action for it to happen.

The Programme focuses on 5 areas AI, supercomputers, cybersecurity, digital skills and digital transformation of public administration where the funding should go. As I support the Commission’s ambition to finally establish such a programme, the proposed amount of 9,1 billion euros rather limits its ambition. For example, for AI it is planned an allocation of 2,5 billion of euros for 2021-2027 to boost Europe’s economy and enhance the society as well as to help Europe in the AI race with US and China. I believe that unfortunately it will be rather difficult for Europe to become the frontrunner knowing that US and China already invested billions in AI and are planning to continue. By 2030 China plans to build $1 trillion AI industry.

Europe needs a clear vision and a common European industrial policy on AI, so the allocation of funds would be successful. I am happy to be a part of the work on preparing the EP position in IMCO and JURI committees and hope to see its successful result in the main responsible ITRE committee in January. Also, the European Commission next week should present the first draft of ethical guidelines on AI. The importance of ethical aspects of AI were also mentioned by the rapporteur drafting this report. Also, I congratulate the rapporteur for emphasizing the role of SMEs and start-ups and how they should benefit from the Digital Europe Programme, for example by using the assistance of Digital Innovation Hubs in order to add an extra value to Europe’s economic growth.

I very welcome the allocation of funds for digital skills. It is clear that we cannot achieve any good results in the areas like supercomputers, AI or cybersecurity if we do not have qualified people to do the job. We have been discussing already many times about the shortage of a qualified labour in Europe. But it is has to be said again: in order to improve the situation, we need not only to reform education systems in our member states, so that digital skills would be taught already in primary schools, but also, we need to invest in the infrastructure: a proper technological environment in schools, new digital tools for teachers, new training methods, so we could prepare ourselves for future opportunities and challenges in tech world.

All in all, I see the Digital Europe Programme as the right step for Europe and hope that we have not missed yet the opportunity to enhance our position in new technologies internationally.