Mika Tuuliainen: The EU is on the right path aiming for a comprehensive European data policy

The European Commission's newly published data strategy provides ambitious guidelines for the coming years. Now Europe wants to catch up with China and the USA.

The Commission’s messages are clear: the EU wants to move towards a uniform, sustainable and digital Europe. The new data strategy rightly links digitalisation together with industrial policy as well as artificial intelligence.

The Commission has a good reason for this ambition as the EU and European companies are far behind the other global players in digitalisation and data economy. A good example is the Forbes’ TOP 100 Digital Companies list where the first European company can only be found on the 19th place. With the new strategy, the EU wants to catch up with China and the US and set EU-wide targets and measures aiming to find European solutions for the digital age.

The credibility of the recent data strategy is reinforced by the fact that the EU funding programmes give it an essential executive role. Utilising a variety of financial instruments, efforts are being made to accelerate companies’ own investments towards data economy and industrial digitalisation. For example, the Horizon Europe Framework Programme for Research and Innovation provides a platform for networks of excellence and high-quality new innovations. Equally, the Digital Europe programme offers support for technology adoption and skills development in both data and artificial intelligence utilisation. The funding will obviously only happen when the EU can agree on a budget for 2021-2027.

Ultimately, however, it is all about skills. Although knowledge and skills are well represented in the Commission’s data strategy, the content remains regrettably general. Developing citizens’ digital skills and training more data scientists is not enough. The bigger question is what kind of skills and abilities will create something new in a digital and sustainable Europe?

The Commission’s Digital Education Action Plan is coming in early summer – hopefully it will indeed focus more on how to best identify and support the right skills development for the new digital age. In addition to being able to exploite data, the ability to innovate and bring new products and services to the markets is the precondition for Europe’s future competitiveness and productivity.

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