The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) welcomes the fact that the European Commission has established a Digital Europe programme, which underscores the intention to make Europe a leading player in digitalisation and to increase its economic strength and competitiveness on the world stage. The aim of the Digital Europe programme is to enable a digital single market and to shape the digital transformation in a positive way for all citizens of Europe.
The Digital Europe programme can create added value particularly in areas where individual countries cannot achieve much on their own. This applies in particular to the objective of cybersecurity, involving the joint development of methods and strategies to combat cyber-attacks originating outside of Europe. This includes, for instance, establishing an independent European microchip industry.
The EESC supports ethical principles being observed in any and all activity under the programme. In this context, the EESC would like to reiterate its demand that the "human in command" principle be enforced, especially in the further development and application of AI in the workplace. Based on such ethical principles, further statutory measures (e.g. regarding liability issues, data protection, worker protection and consumer protection) are essential. In the final analysis, the further digitalisation of our society will only be successful if appropriate cultural developments to sensitise people to benefits and risks are promoted alongside legislation.
The EESC takes a positive view of the fact that support for digital skills has been made a key element in the programme. Digital knowledge and skills are the prerequisite for being able to achieve the other four priorities. There should be comprehensive support for businesses, workers and consumers for the introduction and use of both basic and advanced digital technologies, as this is of decisive importance for the quantity and quality of jobs in Europe, and for its competitiveness. In this connection, the EESC would refer to the European Council conclusions of 19 October 2017, which state that investment in digital skills should aim "to empower and enable all Europeans".
Digitalisation in Europe must be made inclusive. People must not be excluded from digital progress on account of factors like gender, social status, education level, skills, digital capabilities, origin, age or disability. The resultant "digital dividend" must be distributed fairly, by means of appropriate policy measures. It must not only benefit a small number of stakeholders. Measures to implement the programme must take account of the principle in the EU that individuals are the owners of their data and will remain so. The EESC would like the programme to be more closely tied to social realities. The effects on labour market policy and variations in the impact of digitalisation on the regions need to be taken into account. It therefore feels that an essential criterion for the success of the programme will be for digitalisation to lead to economic participation and jobs across all the regions of Europe.