The European Commission yesterday released the results of the 2020 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which monitors Europe’s overall digital performance and tracks the progress of EU countries with respect to their digital competitiveness. This year’s DESI shows that there is progress in all Member States and all key areas measured in the index.
This becomes all the more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which has demonstrated how essential digital technologies have become, by allowing work to continue, monitoring the spread of the virus, or accelerating the search for cures and vaccines. Furthermore, the DESI indicators relevant for the recovery show that EU Member States should step up their efforts to improve the coverage of Very High Capacity Networks, assign 5G spectrum to enable the commercial launch of 5G services, improve citizens’ digital skills and further digitise businesses and the public sector.
The EU4Digital programme is working on a methodology for measuring and forecasting digital skills for the Eastern partner countries, including recommendations to introduce common measurement practices that would be in line with the EU’s DESI.
EU4Digital aims to extend the European Union’s Digital Single Market to the Eastern Partner states, developing the potential of the digital economy and society, in order to bring economic growth, generate more jobs, improve people’s lives and help businesses. Through the initiative, the EU supports the reduction of roaming tariffs, the development of high-speed broadband to boost economies and expand e-services, coordinated cyber security and the harmonisation of digital frameworks across society, in areas ranging from logistics to health, enhanced skills and the creation of jobs in the digital industry.
Impact of coronavirus crisis
Announcing the 2020 DESI results on 11 June, the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President, Margrethe Vestager, said: “The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated how crucial it is for citizens and businesses to be connected and to be able to interact with each other online. We will continue to work with Member States to identify areas where more investment is needed so that all Europeans can benefit from digital services and innovations.”
Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, added: “The data we publish today shows that industry is using digital solutions now more than ever. We need to ensure this is also the case for small and medium businesses and that the most advanced digital technologies are deployed throughout the economy.”
Finland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands are the leaders in overall digital performance in the EU. The International Digital Economy and Society Index (I-DESI) shows that the best performing EU countries are also worldwide leaders. The largest EU economies are not digital frontrunners, which indicates that the speed of digital transformation must accelerate for the EU to successfully deliver on the twin digital and green transformations.
As the pandemic has had a significant impact on each of the five dimensions tracked by DESI, the 2020 findings should be read in conjunction with the numerous measures taken by the Commission and Member States to manage the crisis and support the recovery. Member States took action to minimise contagion and to support healthcare systems, such as by introducing applications and platforms to facilitate telemedicine and coordinate healthcare resources. The Commission also took action, such as issuing a Recommendation on a common Union toolbox for the use of technology and data to combat and enable the exit from the crisis, in particular on mobile applications and the use of anonymised data in tracing apps. The Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC), upon request of the Commission, started to monitor internet traffic to avoid congestion.
Main findings in 5 digital areas
The Digital Economy and Society Index tracks the progress made in Member States in 5 principal policy areas, namely connectivity, digital skills, internet usage by individuals, integration of digital technologies by businesses and digital public services.
Connectivity has improved but more needs to be done to address fast-growing needs. Member States are working on the transposition of new EU rules adopted in 2018 into national legislation, with a view to fostering investment in Very High Capacity Networks, both fixed and mobile. 78% of households had a fixed broadband subscription in 2019, up from 70% 5 years ago, and 4G networks cover almost the entire European population. But only 17 Member States have already assigned spectrum in the 5G pioneer bands, (5 countries more than last year). Fixed Very High Capacity broadband networks are available to 44% of EU homes.
More progress in digital skills is needed, especially since the coronavirus crisis has shown that adequate digital skills are crucial for citizens to be able to access information and services. A large part of the EU population, 42%, still lacks at least basic digital skills. In 2018, some 9.1 million people worked as ICT specialists across the EU, 1.6 million more than 4 years ago. 64% of large enterprises and 56% of SMEs that recruited ICT specialists during 2018 reported that vacancies for ICT specialists were hard to fill.
Although the pandemic has seen a sharp increase in internet use, the trend was already present before the crisis, with 85% of people using the internet at least once a week (up from 75% in 2014). The use of video calls has grown the most, from 49% of internet users in 2018 to 60% in 2019. Internet banking and shopping are also more popular than in the past, being used by 66% and 71% of internet users respectively.
Enterprises are becoming more and more digitised, with large companies taking the lead. 38.5% of large companies already rely on advanced cloud services and 32.7% reported that they use big data analytics. However, the vast majority of SMEs do not yet use these digital technologies, as only 17% of them use cloud services and only 12% big data analytics. As for e-commerce, only 17.5% of SMEs sold products or services online in 2019, following a very slight increase of 1.4 percentage points compared to 2016. In contrast, 39% of large enterprises made use of online sales in 2019.
In order to boost e-commerce, the EU has agreed on a series of measures ranging from ending unjustified cross-border barriers and facilitating cheaper cross-border parcel deliveries to ensuring protection of online customer rights and promoting cross-border access to online content.
Finally, there is an increasing trend towards the use of digital public services in the areas of eGovernment and eHealth, which allows for more efficiency and savings for governments and businesses, improved transparency, and the greater participation of citizens in political life.
For More Information
The Digital Economy and Society Index – DESI 2020