Strengthen its industrial capabilities in the field of Critical Digital Infrastructures

By Roberto Viola, Director General of DG CONNECT (Directorate General of Communication, Networks, Content and Technology) at the European Commission

With the exception of Airbus, the EU has not been able to develop pan-European industrial projects of meaningful scale. This has changed however with the COVID crisis and with the von der Leyen Commission. The pandemic has painfully demonstrated that global supply chains are fragile, and that Europe has developed unhealthy dependencies in some areas. It turns out that globalisation and free trade are no longer risk-free.

While reinforcing Europe’s strategic autonomy was already at the core of the new Industrial Strategy, the Commission has taken a number of other important steps to protect its interests. To that extent,

The efforts to develop industrial capacities in the EU have been vindicated and a series of initiatives can be highlighted, from batteries to the production of vaccines and increasingly the digital economy.

On 9 March 2021, we have presented a vision for Europe’s digital transformation by 2030. This was followed by an update of the Industrial strategy (May 2021), accompanied by a mapping of EU’s strategic dependencies, and the ‘Path to the Digital Decade’ Policy Programme (September 2021).

The latter translates the ambitions for the digital transformation of our society and economy into measurable objectives in the areas of digital skills, digital infrastructures, digitalisation of businesses and public services, and sets up a governance framework based on an annual cooperation mechanism with Member States to reach the 2030 Digital Decade targets. It addresses gaps and critical dependencies in EU’s digital capacities by directing investments to large-scale, pan-European projects for digital infrastructures in areas such as AI, HPC, Cloud-edge, data spaces and semiconductors.

Semiconductors are the essential building blocks of digital and digitised products. From smartphones and cars to healthcare and energy, chips are central to the modern digital economy.

For this reason, the shortage of chips caused by supply chain disruptions has severely impaired the industrial production across all sectors in the EU, with serious economic and societal consequences.

To tackle this challenge, the Commission has adopted last month its proposal for an EU Chips Act. The European Chips Act will ensure that the EU has the necessary tools, skills and technological capabilities to become a leader in this field. It will consist of three pillars:

· The Chips for Europe Initiative will pool resources from the Union, Member States and third countries associated with the existing Union programmes, as well as the private sector, through the enhanced “Chips Joint Undertaking” to strengthen existing research, development and innovation, to ensure the deployment of advanced semi-conductor tools, pilot lines for prototyping, and to train staff

· A new framework to ensure security of supply by attracting investments and enhanced production capacities. In addition, a Chips Fund will facilitate access to finance for start-ups to help them mature their innovations and attract investors.

· A coordination mechanism between Member States and the Commission for monitoring the supply of semiconductors, estimating demand and anticipating shortages. It will draw together common crisis assessment and coordinate actions to be taken from a new emergency toolbox.

Another strategic area where we are developing important initiatives is industrial data, cloud and edge. The goal is to develop European solutions to ensure that European industrial data can be stored and processed in the EU, in line with our safety standards. To this purpose, the multi-stakeholder European Alliance for Industrial Data, Edge and Cloud will strengthen Europe’s industrial capacities and realise the objectives of establishing climate-neutral, highly resource and energy-efficient, sustainable data centres; deploying 10,000 climate-neutral highly secure edge nodes across the EU; and raising the percentage of European businesses using advanced cloud computing services to 75%. In this area, the Commission will continue supporting Member States’ efforts to pool resources via an IPCEI as well.

As part of our Digital Decade objective of supporting the development of secure and sustainable digital infrastructures, we are also continuing to finance 5G networks and submarine cables to connect our continent with the rest of the world and we will soon launch a satellite constellation for internet connectivity in remote areas.

We are also launching the Smart Networks and Services Joint Undertaking, to prepare and shape the 6G communications technologies and through our established EuroHPC Joint Undertaking, we will purchase some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world and make them available to all through a broadband network.

Our strategic autonomy also depends on our capacity to develop adequate policies, regulations and standards that reflect European values and are a strong example for our global counterparts.

The AI Regulation, the Data Act, the Data Governance Act, the Digital Markets Act, the Digital Services Act, but also the recently adopted Declaration on European digital rights and principles and the forthcoming EU’s Standardisation Strategy provide the framework of rules and principles that all actors will need to comply with if they operate on the EU market.

The EU has all it takes to shape the digital and industrial transformation the European way and compete globally. With the measures outlined above, we are on the right path.