Sun. Dec 4th, 2022
EU Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager. Photographer: Christophe Licoppe, © European Union 2022

Brussels, 27 September 2022

“Check against delivery”

Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to this seminar. It is a real pleasure to discuss with ECB colleagues. We should be having more events like this one between our two EU institutions! I really think these exchanges can be very useful for both sides, to gain insights and mutual understanding of each other’s policy views.

Especially in these busy and troubled times. The ECB’s mission to maintain price stability has never been more important than today. The Commission also contributes with its own tools. The energy measures we are proposing include emergency market intervention to reduce bills for Europeans. And competition policy also has a structural role on prices. We can further discuss these topics in the Q&A session.

But I’m here to talk to you about another topic that deeply affects us all, as EU citizens, and probably also your daily work: our European approach to digitalisation.

We know this transformation offers incredible opportunities for improving our quality of life or for boosting innovation and economic growth. But it also presents significant challenges for the security and stability of our societies. And for our democracies.

You all know this very well. Digitalisation is not new in the banking sector, but it increasingly poses more and more challenges. Because digital technologies are not only completely changing payment habits. They are also questioning some fundamental principles of our society like what constitutes money or how it should be governed. And in the same way that we are regulating digital services and markets, you are acting on digital currency. If we don’t, we can expect private unregulated actors to dominate tomorrow’s digital currency and payments markets. It will put our citizens at risk.

All in all, our guiding principle for everything we do, for every piece of legislation that we propose, is that we put people first. That technology works for people and not the other way around.

No matter how fast technologies evolve, no matter how exactly they will shape the world we live in, what we need to make sure is that they always serve people and that it leaves no one behind.

How can we make sure that the digital transformation brings about tangible benefits for all citizens?

Our proposal on the Path to the Digital Decade, that was agreed this July by the European Parliament and Member States, provides us with a very good framework.

First of all, we need to ensure universal access to performant, sustainable and secure digital infrastructure. The pandemic made it obvious how unequally equipped we were to face that crisis. That’s why, by 2030, we want all European households covered with gigabit connectivity. Right now, 7 out of 10 households have it, but we need to advance on the full deployment and unleash the great potential of 5G.

Second, we need skills. We need every European to feel empowered to be part of this digital transformation. And that, of course, will only happen if we all have the right knowledge to understand how digital technologies work, and the right skills to make them work. As President von der Leyen announced earlier this month during her State of the Union speech, 2023 will be the Year of Skills. This is very promising and so much needed. Because as we speak, only 54% of Europeans have at least basic digital skills. Our target is to reach 80% of Europeans by the end of this decade across all ages and backgrounds. This entails, of course, putting a special focus on the “left behinds”: the elderly, persons with disabilities, marginalised or in vulnerable situations. And as you noticed that our objective is not 100%, we need to find solutions to provide alternatives to the remaining 20%. We have a duty not to exclude these people but to help them out. Be it at the local city council to fill in an online form to request a certificate, or at the bank, to open an account or make a transaction.

We also urgently need to double the number of digital experts -with many more women among them-, to bridge the skills shortages. The EU only has 9 million ICT specialists and we should reach 20 million by 2030.

Third, we need people in every business to be able to fully benefit from this digitalisation, especially SMEs. During the pandemic, many businesses pushed the use of digital solutions, such as cloud computing. But there are many other key technologies, such as AI or Big data, that have a huge potential for innovation and efficiency gains. It can be local stores that add a “click& collect” solution, or farmers who collect data to improve their yields. Our goal is that at least 75% of our business use digital solutions by 2030.

And as we make sure that businesses enjoy the full benefits of this transition, it is also equally important that citizens enjoy it as well. Public services have a big role to play. Think of electronic health records or online tax income forms, for instance. That’s why, our goal is to have 100% of key public services available online by 2030 and that 80% of us use a digital identity.

Setting the right targets, priorities and funding is vital for the digital transition to thrive.

But our increasingly digital societies also call for building trust in digital services. It requires a new set of rules, so that all the rights and protections that we have in the offline world, are also guaranteed in the online world.

And that is why we tabled the Digital Markets Act, that will enter into force in only a few weeks, and that will give us more powers to make sure large digital platforms do not squeeze out small businesses. To ensure a level playing field online and forbid practices like harmful forms of self-preferencing.

The DMA goes hand in hand with the Digital Services Act, another important initiative that was formally adopted this month. The DSA is the most far-reaching digital consumer protection law the world has ever seen. It protects consumers from illegal content, it creates more transparency in how algorithms work behind the curtain, when it comes to content removal and ad targeting. It will ensure that everything which is illegal offline is also illegal online.

We are also making significant steps to ensure that the ownership of data is protected, or that the digital products that we buy are safe and secure. We already took a historic step in terms of data protection with the GDPR. Now with our Data Strategy, we are going further. The first piece of this strategy, the Data Governance Act, has recently entered into force and will facilitate data sharing and establish well-regulated data spaces. With the next piece, the Data Act, we are proposing to set rules regarding the use of data generated by Internet of Things devices.

We have also just proposed a Cyber Resilience Act, to establish common European cyber security standards for all digital products on the Single Market. Manufacturers will have a duty of care to address and report vulnerabilities throughout the whole life cycle of the product.

We also proposed in April 2021 our first ever legal framework on Artificial Intelligence to make Europe world-class in the development of a secure, trustworthy and human-centred Artificial Intelligence, and the use of it. It looks at how AI is used, and what for. Altogether, this legal framework shapes the trust we must build if we want people and businesses to embrace AI solutions.

All these proposals together with already approved regulations are shaping the European approach of digitalisation. We will give the tools to citizens and businesses: skills, access to high connectivity, online public services. And we should leave no one behind. But we will also allow citizens to build trust in digitalisation by increasing transparency, ownership, security and by asking companies to abide to rules as they do offline.

It will make digitalisation a precious tool to reinforce our democracy and not a tool of destabilisation, propaganda and control over society as we could read in fictions novels but can also unfortunately see emerging in other parts of the world.

It is a fight for our values, which has never been so important.

Source – EU Commission


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