The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) recommends that Digital Innovation Hubs be reinforced to boost the EU’s innovation capacity as part of the transition to a sustainable future. DIHs provide valuable infrastructure for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that might otherwise struggle to become greener and more digital.
The EU is behind the US and Japan in terms of investment in research and development relative to GDP (2.32 % in 2020, compared to 3.08 % in the US and 3.2 % in Japan).
The EESC believes that the EU should boost R&D investment to 3 % of GDP and has laid out several recommendations on how to best use Digital Innovation Hubs to this end in an own-initiative opinion approved at its plenary in October.
Opinion rapporteur Giuseppe Guerini said:
The digital transition affects the whole of European society, not only the economy. There is a direct impact on achieving the climate goals of the European Green Deal and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but above all, there are many social impacts!
Speaking on the importance of DIHs, co-rapporteur Nicos Epistithiou added:
Digital Innovation Hubs function as one-stop shops that provide guidance to SMEs on the digital and green transitions. Trade unions, civilian society organisations, employers’ associations and public authorities need to work together within them.
Digital Innovation Hubs are regional collaborations between different types of organisations. They serve as platforms for testing technological solutions prior to investment and can be used to exchange best practices and develop digital skills.
The DIH network in Europe is currently undergoing major restructuring but the EESC is concerned that there is a lack of clear vision on their future development.
DIHs should act as “middle-layers” to listen to SMEs’ demands and identify suitable tools and solutions, the EESC believes. However, DIHs are not distributed evenly across Europe. Eastern and south-eastern Europe are lagging other countries.
Reducing these disparities is of vital importance for Europe to progress as a whole.
Several SME policies are not implemented at national level, and there is a large gap in communication about DIH facilities. The EU and Member States must engage in raising awareness on existing programmes for SMEs, including the benefits of joining the DIH network, the EESC said.
A regional mapping of existing hubs and an action plan focusing on regional development and inclusion will help Europe to become more competitive, sustainable, resilient and self-sufficient.
As Mr Guerini explained:
Digital Innovation Hubs are not only service structures for companies. All civil society and social economy organisations should use these services to improve their level of digital skills.