Shaping Europe's Digital Future
Digital technologies can improve the ways in which we work, live and study but we need systems that are easily accessible, trustworthy and secure.
That’s why creating a Europe fit for the digital age is one of six top priorities for the European Commission.
The European Commission’s Digital Strategy has three key objectives that will help Europe set global standards on technological development.
These objectives will develop technology that works for people, creates a fair, competitive economy and ensures an open, democratic and sustainable society.
A White Paper on Artificial Intelligence and a European data strategy proposal were amongst the first actions of the new strategy.
Artificial intelligence (AI) can help find solutions to many of society’s problems, from health to farming and from security to manufacturing, but only if it’s developed and used in ways that earn the trust of people.
The Digital Strategy will create a single market for data so it can flow freely within the EU and across sectors, while respecting stronger privacy and data protection rules.
A new EU industrial strategy will ensure that businesses, particularly SMEs, lead the way as we enter a new age of European climate neutrality and digital leadership.
Every day terabytes of information passes across the internet including private, personal data.
Under EU rules personal data can only be gathered for a legitimate purpose, under strict legal conditions, and anybody who collects and manages personal information must protect it from misuse.
New rules on data protection were introduced across the EU in May 2018 through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The GDPR gives EU citizens as well as businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), more control over their personal data as there is now a single set of rules applicable across all Member States.
Individuals have the right to request a copy of any personal data organisations may be holding about them free of charge.
Citizens also have the right to have their data erased swiftly under the GDPR, and companies and organisations have to follow strict rules when it comes to data processing.
The Data Protection Commission is the national independent authority in Ireland with responsibility for upholding individuals’ rights to Data Protection.
Ending unjustified cross-border barriers, facilitating cheaper parcel deliveries, protecting online customer rights and promoting access to online content are cornerstones of the European Digital Strategy.
A regulation proposed by the European Commission to end unjustified geoblocking online came into force in December 2018.
This means Europeans no longer have to worry about a website blocking or re-routing them just because they, or their credit card, come from a different country.
Details on the implementation of geoblocking in Ireland can be found here.
A new consumer protection regulation that makes it easier for national authorities to protect consumers online was introduced in January 2020.
It allows national authorities from all countries in the European Economic Area to jointly address cybercrime and breaches of consumer rules when the trader and the consumer are established in different countries.
New rules on online cross-border parcel delivery services have been in place since May 2018, aimed at guaranteeing price transparency and competition.
This makes it easier to find the cheapest way of sending a parcel from one Member State to another.
Rules for digital contracts that create clearer rights for consumers and provide them with a high level of protection will begin to apply throughout the EU by the end of 2021.
The rules will cover products such as videos, music, software and live streaming services and will give legal certainty to consumers and suppliers when purchasing and selling cross-border.
One of the most visible benefits of EU Digital Strategy so far has been the elimination of mobile phone roaming charges.
A European Commission review of the roaming market published in 2019 found that demand for mobile consumption while travelling in the EU/EEA has rapidly increased since the scrapping of roaming charges.
It has also resulted in a reduction in wholesale roaming prices, which in turn makes the end of roaming charges sustainable for almost all roaming providers.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are deeply woven into the fabric of Europe and Ireland.
A Seanad Public Consultation Committee Report in 2019 stated that 99% of active enterprises in Ireland were SMEs and they employed 65% (over one million) of Ireland’s workforce.
With the SME Strategy for a sustainable and digital Europe, the European Commission wants to support and empower SMEs of all sizes and sectors.
Under the strategy, the Commission aims to expand the number of Digital Innovation Hubs, which provide opportunities for SMEs, from 166 to 240.
The EU Startup Nations Standard will see the Commission mobilise Member States to share and adopt best practices to accelerate growth of high tech SMEs and start-ups.
Actions will be taken to make it easier for SMEs to export, promote venture-building and tech transfer from universities, and increase access to finance for scaling-up.
Sustainability advisors will work through the Enterprise Europe Network to provide information on solutions to sustainability challenges to SMEs and digital crash courses will be set up for SME employees to become proficient in areas such as AI, cybersecurity or blockchain.
Broadband connectivity is strategically important for European growth and innovation in all sectors of the economy.
The national broadband targets of Ireland are in line with the Digital Agenda for Europe, both for coverage and take up.
The National Broadband Plan (NBP) is the Irish Government's plan to deliver high speed broadband services to all businesses, farms and households in Ireland
In 2019 the European Commission approved, under EU State aid rules, €2.6 billion of public support for the Irish NBP.
The funding will help address connectivity deficits across Ireland in an effort to achieve 100% high-speed coverage. This is an objective of the Commission’s strategy, as is uninterrupted 5G coverage for all urban areas.
Free public Wi-Fi
A European Commission initiative is promoting free Wi-Fi for citizens in Europe’s parks, squares, public buildings, libraries, health centres and museums.
Under the WiFi4EU initiative cities, towns and districts in Member States can apply for vouchers to the value of €15,000 to install Wi-Fi equipment in public spaces.
In Ireland, 28 of the country’s 31 local authorities had secured WiFi4EU vouchers by 2019 and the Department of Rural and Community Development committed to provide matched funding of €15,000 for every voucher awarded.
From teaching whiteboards to classroom tablets, digital technologies are a big part of today's learning process.
The European Commission works on several policy initiatives to modernise education and training, provides funding for research to promote digital learning technologies and measures the progress on digitization of schools.
The Digital Education Action Plan adopted in 2018 outlines how the EU can help individuals, educational institutions and education systems to better adapt for digital living.
The plan has three priorities, setting out measures to help EU Member States educate for the digital age, and 11 actions to support technology use and the development of digital competences in education.
Measures include providing schools with high-speed broadband connections and scaling up SELFIE - a self-assessment tool developed by the Commission to help schools better use technology for teaching and learning. SELFIE is accessible As Gaeilge meaning Gaelscoileanna can make use of the tool.
Women in Digital
The EU is facing an unparalleled shortage of ICT professionals and while women account for 52% of the European population, females hold only 15% of ICT-related jobs.
Results of an ICT in Education study published in 2019 found that more than 4 out of 5 female European students attending secondary schools never or almost never engage in coding school.
These figures support the European Commission strategy to get more women interested in technology and increase the number of female tech entrepreneurs.
The strategy aims to challenge digital gender stereotypes, promote digital skills and education for women and advocate for more women entrepreneurs.
Ireland, along with 26 other Member States and Norway, signed the Declaration of commitment on Women in Digital at Digital Day on 9 April 2019.
The aim of the declaration is to raise the political priority of women's under-representation in the digital economy.
Digital response to Covid-19
The European Commission has been working to coordinate, complement and initiate measures to deal with every aspect of the coronavirus pandemic, and digital technologies play a vital role.
EU Members States, supported by the Commission, have developed an EU toolbox for the use of mobile applications for contact tracing and warning in response to the pandemic.
The toolbox sets out the essential requirements for contact tracing and warning apps allowing for easier, quicker and more efficient tracing than traditional systems based on interviews with infected patients.
It focuses on developing a common approach for modelling and predicting the evolution of the virus through anonymous and aggregated mobile location data.
The Commission also launched the AI-ROBOTICS vs COVID-19 initiative to see how Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics solutions can help in the crisis.
A special reporting mechanism to monitor any capacity issues potentially affecting EU internet traffic was also set up by the Commission and the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC).
Actions were taken to combat online fake news and disinformation as well.
The Commission is also helping citizens, including teachers, to utilise digital networks to help with work, creativity and entertainment during the pandemic.
Progress across Europe in digital policy is measured by the annual European Commission Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) and Ireland ranked seventh out of the 28 EU Member States for 2019.
- Ireland has top ranking among EU countries when it comes to the integration of digital technology.
- Irish SMEs excel in the use of e-commerce, with 30% selling online and 17% selling cross border, well above the EU average of 17% and 8% respectively.
- Ireland also ranks 1st in open data and 2nd in digital public services for businesses but the indicators that include private users are less impressive.
- While 63% of GPs exchange medical data (well above the EU average of 43%), only 8% of them use e-prescription (well below the EU average of 50%). When it comes to use of e-health services, Ireland ranks only 21st.
- Ireland ranks 5th in fast broadband coverage with 96%, compared with an EU average of 83%; and 10th in fast broadband take-up, with 54%, compared with an EU average of 41%.
- Ireland performs well when it comes to high level ICT skills with the 2nd largest share of ICT graduates and the share of ICT specialists in the workforce (4.4%) is also above the EU average (3.7%). However, despite this, there is a significant shortage of ICT specialists.
- The share of internet users in Ireland at 80% is just below the EU average of 83%. The most popular online activities are entertainment (music, videos and games), social networks, shopping and banking. People in Ireland are less likely to read news online or to take an online course than people in the rest of the EU.