20 February, Brussels


Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

I would like first to thank DigitalEurope for giving me the opportunity to participate to this important event.

“Masters of Digital 2018” represents one of the annual flagships of the digital year in Brussels and it is a pleasure for me to take part to this discussion with some of the brightest digital experts on the policy challenges that impact the Digital Economy and on the key enablers that will transform Europe.

The exponential growth in digitization and Internet connectivity is the backbone of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It has the potential to propel societies forward, enable innovative business models and help governments address legitimate policy concerns. Digitization is transforming our daily lives.

I am fully focussed on this transformative wave, on the opportunities that are created, on the new industries, new startups, new founders that have the courage to embark into this journey.

Europe is home to multiple, thriving startup ecosystems, fuelled by imagination, technical and scientific excellence and a tenacity to achieve. Many of you here today are the proof to that.

We believe Europe represents a key level for action: when it comes to startup ecosytems the whole is easily greater than the sum of its parts

However, you will be asking yourselves: what role can the European Commission play?

Over the past 3 years we have delivered an ambitious digital agenda in the form of the Digital Single Market Strategy.  

The goals are clear. We need to make it possible for digital goods and services to freely move across national borders.

We need to make it easy for online businesses to pursue opportunities across the Europe.

We need to offer European citizens a high level consumer protection for their digital transactions, irrespective of their place of residence or where the business is established.

After these three years, I am happy to say that we have made considerable progress.

We have put forward 44 initiatives. 25 of these are legislative initiatives proposed to the Council and the European Parliament.

The proposals cover a wide range of actions addressing infrastructure, high-performance computing, data and skills.

The european co-legislators have already reached an agreement on key components of the Digital Single Market, such as the end of roaming and spectrum coordination.

Online sales will be eased by simpler and more efficient VAT rules for start-ups and SMEs, and the end of unjustified geo-blocking.

I am confident we will continue to work hard in 2018 and swiftly adopt the remaining proposals by the end of 2018, as requested by the European Council.

We have to show citizens the benefits that digital technology can bring to the European economy and society.

To this end, we are providing support to help European innovators deliver more break-through innovations.

We are delivering policies to help more startups become scaleups. We deliver support to SMEs to help take advantage of the digital transformation and become stronger players in the global economy.

Our ultimate goal?

To create more sustainable growth and quality jobs.

If you go back 10 or 15 years ago, Europe had isolated examples of success, such as Skype or Nokia.

Today things are different.

Companies such as Criteo, Spotify and Zalando are securing global success and reminding the world of European entrepreneurial excellence.

Europe has now produced 41 tech companies that have achieved Billion Euro valuations through private market investment rounds, via an acquisition or through a valuation in the public markets post-IPO.

Such companies take time to be built. They need a solid team focusing on the long term execution, having the right combination of finance, access to markets, access to customers and skills to be able to stay competitive and fight towards becoming leaders.

Let there be no doubt. The potential of the European startup scene is huge.

Don't take my word for it. Europe has strengths that it can build on, and the capital to build the next unicorns.

In 2017 more than €19 billion of venture capital was invested in European companies. The largest level of investment on record.

But is it the end game of just a start? For me, Europe is only getting started.

Take the deep tech revolution. Europe is well positioned to lead it.

Since 2012, European Artificial Intelligence companies have raised more than €3.75 billion across over 1,000 deals;

When it comes to blockchain Europe is leading and the USA is lagging.

On top of that, there is Europe's world-class talent in Internet of Things, cybersecurity, HPC and Robotics.

The European Commission is not sitting on the side-lines, cheer-leading this excellence.

We are active and "on the field".

We are shaping and delivering concrete actions and policies to support growth opportunities for digital SMEs and startups to scale up in Europe.

Let's start with what we are doing on Digital Skills.

We all know that digitisation is radically transforming the economy and the society. Automation and diffusion of advanced digital technologies will increase productivity and create new economic opportunities.

The latest generation of digital technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of things, Big Data will contribute to keep the European Union at the forefront of innovation and also considerably increase the competitiveness of businesses.

But the success of the introduction of ever more sophisticated digital technologies requires a necessary condition:

To have enough skilled people to develop and use these technologies in all sectors of the economy: automotive, energy, telecom, health, retail and a lot more.

However, many companies especially SMEs do not have the know-how and the operational capacity to benefit from digital technologies yet.

We must therefore step up our efforts for training and education programmes which provide learning of digital skills already at school.

I can see your question: Can Europe play an active role in this area while its competences are limited? My answer is definitely YES.

Last month, the Commission adopted a Digital Education Action Plan defining measures to help Member States’ education systems to adapt to the ongoing digital transformation. It calls for better use of digital technologies for education, but also the development of the digital skills needed to live and work in the era of the digital transformation.

Acquiring digital skills needs to start at an early age. Therefore, I have decided to scale up the EU Code Week Initiative to encourage many more schools in Europe to participate with the goal of achieving 50% participation by 2020.

We all know that young Europeans are avid users of the web, apps and games but they also need to learn about underlying structures and basic algorithms, and get the possibility to become digital creators and leaders.

Of course, education and training policies remain in the hands of the Member States, but the Commission can act as a facilitator.

For example by encouraging best practices exchange, better access to funding and also by bringing around the table all actors that can tackle the digital skills gap: companies, public organisations, education providers, NGOs, social partners.

This is why we have set up the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition.

One year after its creation, the Coalition brings together more than 340 members and 90 pledgers ready to take action on reducing digital skills gaps of citizens, the labour force, ICT professionals and in education.

The activities of the Coalition have so far reached several millions of citizens with thousands of awareness raising events, and over 3.7 million trainings offered on-line and face to face.

Nevertheless, this is not enough. What can we do more?

There is an urgent need to train and re-skill the European labour force; both the employed and unemployed.

For the time being, many businesses state that young people leaving school do not have the skills adapted to their needs. More than 40 % of enterprises in Europe who are looking for ICT specialists say they struggle to find the right people and ICT vacancies continue to grow.

To help them meet this challenge, I have launched in December 2017 a pilot initiative, called “Digital Opportunity Traineeships”.

The project will provide on-the-job trainings to students and recent graduates of all faculties focusing on advanced digital skills, which are highly requested in the labour market.

The pilot will offer up to 6000 traineeships between 2018 and 2020. It will function on the Erasmus model.

I take the opportunity today to encourage you - IT companies - but also all digitally-intensive enterprises in any sector to respond to this challenge and offer traineeships for our young people.

The process to advertise for traineeship is easy and digital!

Allow me now turn to what Europe does for startups.

We need to create programs and policies to connect ecosystems, founders and startups at European level. This is with a view to accelerate growth, cooperation and diversity.

Startup Europe is our initiative to achieve this.

It has helped more than 700 startups to receive direct market access and acceleration support in the last 3 years of the program activity, attracting over 160 million euros in private investment.

Today, the links between European startup hubs in different countries are substantially strengthened.

We do not underestimate the importance of networking to achieve critical mass.

In the coming years Startup Europe is going to pivot its efforts to deliver a "Scaleup Continent". This will involve boosting the participation of startups in EU-funded Research and Innovation programmes, especially in Deep Tech; strengthening the startups ecosystem in Central and Eastern Europe; and supporting high growth startups to secure market opportunities beyond Europe.

Startup Europe also contributes to the entrepreneurial culture of the continent. Through grassroots events like Startup Europe Week, European Maker Week, or Startup Europe Universities hundreds of thousands young professionals and students have learned that it is possible to start in Europe, that there are programs to help you launch your business and grow it.

We need to do more, YES.

We need to get such initiatives across all European cities, across all universities. We need to launch new ecosystems and stimulate more collaboration between startups and corporates and highlight the importance of the existing innovation hubs.

And we are doing this – through the Digital Single Market Strategy on crucial policies, Startup Europe around ecosystems, startups and scaleups,

With the Code Week and the Digital Education Action Plan on skills of the future.

And all this will be complemented by a data-driven tool – the 'Innovation Radar' - a catalyst for the emergence of a whole new ecosystem around the Horizon 2020 programme.

This brings me to my conclusion

I am very confident that our initiatives and policy actions will support the new wave of innovative European startups to take their place on the global stage.

We have no choice: we must succeed and to succeed we need to act together.

This is my commitment and I am determined to live up to the expectations of the citizens, the entrepreneurs and all the businesses in Europe.

I thank you very much for your attention.