The European Union is getting increasingly digitalised according to the results of the 2022 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) released by the European Commission. However differences still remain from one country to another. Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden remain the EU front runners in a digital-oriented society.
The European Commission published the results of the 2022 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which tracks the progress in digital made in EU Member States. During the Covid pandemic, Member States advanced in their digitalisation efforts but still struggled to close the gaps in digital skills, the digital transformation of SMEs, and the roll-out of advanced 5G networks.
The Recovery and Resilience Facility, with about €127 billion dedicated to reforms and investments in the area of digital, offers an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate the digital transformation, which the EU and its Member States cannot afford to miss.
The DESI findings show that while most of the Member States are making progress in their digital transformation, the adoption of key digital technologies by businesses, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data remains low. Efforts need to be stepped up to ensure the full deployment of connectivity infrastructure (notably 5G) that is required for highly innovative services and applications. Digital skills is another important area where Member States need to make bigger progress.
Executive Vice-President for the EU’s digital strategy, Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, said: “Digital transition is accelerating. Most Member States are progressing in building resilient digital societies and economies. Since the start of the pandemic we have made significant efforts to support Member States in the transition. Be that through the Recovery and Resilience Plans, EU Budget or, more recently also through the Structured Dialogue on Digital Education and Skills. Because we need to make the most of the investments and reforms necessary to meet the Digital Decade targets in 2030. So change must happen already now.”
Northern Europe leading in digitalisation
Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden remain the EU frontrunners in the digital arena. However, even they are faced with gaps in key areas: the uptake of advanced digital technologies such as AI and Big Data, remains below 30% and very far from the 2030 Digital Decade target of 75%; the widespread skill shortages, which are slowing down overall progress and lead to digital exclusion.
There is an overall positive convergence trend: the EU continues to improve its level of digitalisation, and Member States that started from lower levels are gradually catching up, by growing at a faster rate. In particular, Italy, Poland and Greece substantially improved their DESI scores over the past five years, implementing sustained investments with a reinforced political focus on digital, also supported by European funding.
As digital tools become an integral part of everyday life and participation in society, people without appropriate digital skills risk being left behind. Only 54% of Europeans aged between 16 -74 have at least basic digital skills. The target of the Digital Decade strategy is at least 80% by 2030. In addition, although 500,000 ICT specialists entered the labour market between 2020 and 2021, the EU’s 9 million ICT specialists fall far short of its target of 20 million specialists by 2030 and are not enough to bridge the skills gaps businesses currently face. During 2020, more than half of businesses in the European Union (55%) reported difficulties in filling ICT specialist vacancies.
These shortages represent a significant obstacle for the recovery and competitiveness of EU businesses. Lack of specialised skills is also holding the EU back in its efforts to achieve the Green Deal targets. Massive efforts are therefore required for the reskilling and upskilling of the workforce.
In 2021, Gigabit connectivity increased further in Europe. The coverage of networks connecting buildings with fibre reached 50% of households, driving overall fixed very high capacity network coverage up to 70% (100% target by 2030). Last year, 5G coverage also grew to 66% of populated areas in the EU.