Digital Europe Programme
Written by Sarah Borg
Europe has not been cooperatively advancing enough in the latest technologies, and there is a growing discrepancy between the supply and demand when it comes to the use of digital technologies.
Businesses, public sector and academies are constantly searching for non-EU countries to access computing, data handling or cybersecurity capacities they need, while citizens often lack the skills to thrive in the new digital economy. Hence, not all sectors in the EU have benefited equally from digital innovation. For these reasons, the new Digital Europe Programme (DEP) is a plan that will be a key to making the achievements of the Digital Single Market a reality.The DEP aims at setting up and making accessible Europe-wide data spaces, testing and experimentation facilities for artificial intelligence (AI) in the areas of health, environment/climate, mobility, manufacturing and energy; enhancing cybersecurity by installing a pan-European quantum communication infrastructure whilst supporting the set-up of a warranty scheme for cybersecurity products; providing SMEs and public administrations access to the latest and more advanced digital technologies by setting up a network of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIH) and positioning open, interoperable, trustworthy urban digital platforms tailored to communities’ needs, offering easy standardised access to new datasets, and the large-scale roll-out of AI driven services in Smart Energy, Smart Mobility, waste and secondary resource management, industry and (re)manufacturing, healthcare and e-government.
With a planned overall budget of €9.2 billion, it will shape and support the digital transformation of Europe’s society and economy and will cover 5 specific areas: €2.5 billion in AI; €2.4 billion in supercomputing; €2 billion in cybersecurity and trust; €700 million in advanced digital skills; and €1.3 billion in the use of digital technologies across the economy and society. The DEP is structured around two main types of activities: building essential digital capacities for the three key digital technology areas identified (HPC, AI and cybersecurity) as well as the advanced digital skills needed to “operate” them; and accelerating the adoption and best use of digital technologies, including the latest digital capacities, across the economy and society.
The programme will boost investments in supercomputing to increase accessibility and broaden the use of supercomputing in areas of public interest such as health, environment and security, and in industry, including small and medium-sized enterprises; AI to set up a true European data space and facilitate safe access to and storage of large datasets and trustworthy and energy efficient cloud infrastructure; cybersecurity to support the wide deployment of the cybersecurity capacities across the economy and strengthening cybersecurity coordination between Member States’ tools and data infrastructures; advanced digital skills to support the design and delivery of specialized programmes and traineeships for the future experts in key capacity areas like data and AI, cybersecurity, quantum and High Performance Computing (HPC). The last but not least is ensuring a wide use of digital technologies across the economy and society to build up and strengthen the network of European Digital Innovation Hubs, aiming to have a Hub in every region, to help companies benefit from digital opportunities. Its goal is to improve Europe’s competitiveness in the global digital economy and increase its technological autonomy.
All the areas of the programme are co-dependent. AI relies on cybersecurity to ensure data is secure and trustworthy, cybersecurity requires HPC to process the vast amount of data obtained, digital services requires all three capacities to meet future standards and deploying any one of these key technologies requires the appropriate skillset. The DEP cannot be conceived as a set of isolated parts. It will also complement the investments to be made in research and innovation in digital technologies and applications under Horizon Europe (HE), and the support for connectivity under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF2), amongst others. Synergies between different funding programmes, at regional, national and EU level, will allow for economies of scale, make investments more consistent, and provide better value for citizens and businesses.
The DEP has complementarities and synergies with several other proposed instruments in the post-2020 Multi Financial Framework. On digitalisation in cities, the most significant ones are HE, CEF2 and Erasmus+. Broadly speaking, these can be seen in what will be invented, developed and tested under the HE programme, could be widely implemented and deployed under the DEP. When focusing on digital services and technologies proposed in the DEP depending on the high capacity broadband and 5G corridors supported by the CEF2. Broad deployment of cybersecurity made under the DEP will also influence the critical infrastructures supported by CEF2.
The DEP is both a much-needed fresh impetus for Europe to onboard emerging technologies and a continuation of the previous CEF Telecoms programme with proven technologies. This will give a wider perspective of the digital world and will support the distribution of digital services in areas of public services. It will enhance cybersecurity by deploying a pan-European quantum communication infrastructure and will address shortages of digital experts in the EU through dedicated leading programmes for AI, advanced computing and cybersecurity. And for that it is to be considered, one of the most important tools, if not the most important, that will help fund the technologies that will makes Europe fit for the digital age.
The new Digital Europe Programme (DEP) is a plan that will be a key to making the achievements of the Digital Single Market a reality