ICT Innovation is a driving force for socio-economic change. ICT equips countries with tools to reorganise and globalise their economies, achieve faster economic growth, create new jobs, raise living standards and reduce inequalities. In the EU, the ICT sector is significant and developing rapidly – from 2013 to 2018, the value added by ICT services increased by 27%, while the valued added by ICT manufacturing increased by 31%. The value added by the ICT sector was equivalent to 3.6% of GDP in 2017 in the EU, and the sector is currently one of most efficient of the EU economy: in 2017, the apparent labour productivity of the ICT sector was 65.2% higher than that recorded for the non-financial business economy as a whole, making up to €117,600 per person employed in Belgium, and around €100,000 in Finland and France. However, the biggest effect of ICT is that it is one of the few sectors that enables the creation of general purpose technologies that contribute to productivity and value added of traditional sectors of economy, via digitisation and digital transformation.
The Eastern Neighbourhood countries have also seen a rise in the growth of the ICT sector: ICT service export share in 2017 made up around 5% of total exports and around 19% of the service export in Belarus and Ukraine. The region is rich with innovative ideas, and some solutions have already become global. However, the innovation ecosystem of the countries, which has a high potential to contribute to the development of non-ICT sectors of the economy, lags behind that of the EU. Whereas there are over 80 business incubators and 150 accelerators in the EU, the ICT Innovation study has counted only 42 incubators and 19 accelerators in the Eastern partner countries.
ICT-enabled development in the region should include more coordinated efforts to address the lack of support from national ICT ecosystems, which is crucial to leverage ICT for sustainable economic development. A fresh impetus should be given to promote seed and venture funding, acceleration programmes, networking and clustering and address needs for specific competences and skills to work on global markets. These elements are vital for a seamless and strong ICT sector. Inadequate attention to innovation ecosystems leads to a brain drain and start-up drain from the Eastern partner countries to those countries with a better developed ICT ecosystem. EU4Digital aims to contribute to enhancement of such ecosystems to enable the growth of companies within the region, their contribution to GDP, export and workplaces.