Co-Authored by Pastora Valero and Cate Nymann
The COVID-19 pandemic has created disruption and massive change at a scale and rate that many never thought was possible. But with change, even under heart-breaking conditions, can live opportunity. As we invest in reigniting growth, this is an opportunity to reinvent ourselves.
We therefore welcome the ambitious blueprint laid out this week by the European Commission (EC) to give Europe the necessary means for an economic recovery that is sustainable and invests in our digital future.
Now is the time to invest in Europe’s digital transformation.
This crisis has shown just how critical the ubiquitous availability is of secure, high quality digital connectivity and the possibilities digital tools give us to do things differently and in many cases in a more sustainable way.Europe has a unique opportunity now to make sure the European recovery fund and next multiannual budget support and generate jobs and growth that delivers on the EU’s twin transitions: the green deal and digital transformations.
As a prerequisite for the digital and green transition Europe needs to close its rural digital divide.
Today only 52% of citizens living in rural areas have access to broadband speeds of 30Mbps and a meagre 16% have access to 100Mbps speeds. This was already a barrier to rural economic and social development before the crisis but the pandemic and resulting reliance has made it an urgency to address and rectify. The Commission’s proposals this week sends all the right signals on the importance of high speed and high quality connectivity, including 5G, and we will be looking to see this translated into tangible commitments and spending targets.
It is also crucial to continue accelerating the impressive innovation we have seen in the public sector, particularly in but not limited to healthcare and education.
This applies both to addressing challenges directly related to the Covid emergency but equally to address pre-existing challenges and to create new and improved public services. Today we see hybrid models blending in-person and digital solutions that for instance can help make up for doctor shortages that we see in rural areas in many European countries or that can enhance our children’s learning experience long after they have returned to the classroom. Investments in these areas are essential for improving our citizens’ access to public services and to better prepare our children for the digital society.
Lastly, we should mainstream digital across sectors as an important enabler for the verticals and Europe to achieve the European Green Deal.
For instance, when the Commission talks about a renovation wave of our buildings and infrastructure to build a more circular economy, we should make sure that such works include integration of digital solutions to make buildings smart. This helps reduce both building management and operating costs and the environmental footprint. That same should apply to investments in other physical infrastructures like road and rail as well as EU’s support for traditional sectors such as energy and agriculture to enable these sectors in their transition to a greener economic model. We have for instance led several interesting projects in the UK as part of the government’s 5G Rural First programme demonstrating the positive environmental and business impact from precision farming and use of digital tools and data analytics.
Smart stimulus today will create an inclusive, sustainable digital future.
This pandemic has created a need to rebuild the economy across Europe. As the European Commission and governments across the continent make investments towards that effort, they have the chance to prioritise investments into growth that reinvents the economy and our society for the future.
We believe the plan released this week sets Europe on the right track and we look forward to working with the European Commission and Member States to create the new digital future that builds a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery.