SERN Policy Briefing: Europe Fit for Digital Age and the Digital Decade Strategy

Digital Age
SERN Policy Briefing #4: 6/5/2021

Europe into the Digital Age 

Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, is the executive vice-president of the “Europe Fit for the Digital Age” commission, succeeding Mariya Gabriel, the previous Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society.

Her roles regard the implantation of SME strategies, coordinating work on data and artificial intelligence, upgrading liability and safety rules for digital platforms, services and products as part of a new Digital Services Act and setting the strategic direction of the political priority “Europe Fit for the Digital Age”.

Vestager has a background in economics, has studied in Copenhagen and entered politics at the age of 21. She identifies herself with the Danish Social Liberal Party, a centrist group, which belongs to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). In 2001, she was elected for the Danish Parliament. Six years later, she managed to replace her party’s parliamentary group leader, thus starting her political career.

In 2011-2014, she was responsible for Denmark’s Economy and Interior Affairs and she have made cuts on Denmark’s unemployment benefits. Vestager also promoted, in 2014, a growth package, which goal was to stimulate post-crisis recovery. The measures had considerable success. The country’s output rose by $ 1.1 billion, and companies drastically cut their costs.

In 2012, Denmark had been appointed to preside the Council of the EU. Thus, Vestager chaired most ECOFIN meetings. During this period, relevant financial decisions were taken. For example, she contributed to the goal of an EU Banking Union.

In 2014, she got a place in the Juncker Commission, heading Competition. Her tenure was marked by a fight against illegal state aids. For example, she faced Gazprom, regarding EU antitrust rules. The Russian giant had been competing until then illegally.

Another example is the case against Apple, ordered to pay a fine of €13 Billion on the account of the company receiving large Irish tax benefits. As a response, Ireland would later create the CAIA arrangement. This would allow Apple to execute a major tax-inversion. Such would rise Irish GDP by about 34%. Apple wasn’t the only titan Vestager faced. She also chased companies such as Starbucks, or Amazon.

In 2019, Vestager was nominated European Commissioner and given the responsibility of preparing Europe for the digital age.

The Digital Decade Strategy

Digital technologies bring EU citizens new freedoms and rights and the opportunity to reach out beyond physical communities. However challenges are associated with the move to a digital world. Particularly during the current sanitary crisis, the consequences of the prolonged lockdowns were visible on the economy. In its recovery plan, the EU sets out the ‘digital decade’ as the EU’s vision for a digital world that empowers people and businesses and is shaped around a human-centred, sustainable and more prosperous approach. Moreover, the EU needs to accelerate and facilitate the launch of multi-country projects, building on the numerous Fund Programmes for R&D investments like Recovery and Resilience Facility, the Cohesion Funds, Horizon Europe and other EU funding instruments.

Digital Compass

The digital Compass identifes the EU’s vision for the next digital decade through 4 main objectives: a digitally skilled population, secure and substantial digital infrastructures, digital transformation of businesses, and digitisation of public sectors. Key policy areas, including cloud computing, artificial intelligence, digital identities and connectivity will need to be enhanced.

The European Education Area (EEA)

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic the need for a resilient and digital Europe has never been more compelling and as a means to relaunch innovation and entrepreneurial activities, an updated Action Plan on the European Education Area is in order to increase the uptake of digital skills across society, planned to reach full development by 2025.

Digital Services Act

The private online platforms offering employmentervices that substituted the government in the aid to the citizens have been both praised for the work carried out and criticized for the grey area in which they had operated, in-between the needs of the unemployed and the precariousness of the contracts offered. For this, the Commission announced to publish the Digital Services Act, which intends to upgrade liability and safety rules for digital platforms, services and goods, and take further steps towards completion of the digital single market. The Union will build a European cloud as part of NextGenerationEU – based on GaiaX. All 27 Member States have pooled forces to commit to the next generation cloud for Europe and they will drive its uptake in the private and public sectors across the EU.

Deep Tech Research Innovations

Of course, the EC will keep its attention focussed in achieving more technological sovereignty in critical technologies, such as 5G. According to the political guidelines of the President of the Commission von der Leyen, the EU should define global standards and increase investment in technologies such as blockchain, high-performance and quantum computing, with 8 billion euros made available for research in the next generation of supercomputers and cutting-edge technology made in Europe. Another main target for the EU is to reach a legislative proposal on Crypto Assets and a legislative proposal on the operational and cyber-resilience of Cross-sectoral Financial Services.

Big Data Regulations

The EU intends to safeguard the balance of the free flow of data with the preservation of privacy, security, safety and ethical standards. This includes examining ways to use and share non-personalised big data in order to develop new profitable technologies and business models. In this regard, the Commission will publish a White Paper on Artificial Intelligence as well as a European Strategy for Data, while pursuing data-based innovation, a field in which EU has been too slow and is now dependent on others.

Cybersecurity and Network

A strengthened common cybersecurity policy, which is to include a common European platform and an enhanced European Cybersecurity Agency will translate, in terms of new initiatives, in the review of the NIS Directive, which deals with the security of network and information systems. This includes control over personal data, for instance when using an App, which asks to create a new digital identity, or developing new rules and technologies to protect citizens from counterfeit products, cybertheft, and disinformation. To counter this, among other initiatives there is the plan for the institutionalization of Security Operations Centres, powered by AI, to anticipate, detect and respond to cyberattacks at national and EU level.

Digital Single Market

The EU intends to promote alignment or convergence with EU norms and standards, to further improve consumer rights in the digital single market and operate on the identified critical capacities to support an interconnected, interoperable and secure Digital Single Market. For instance, implementing common chargers for mobile phones and similar devices and the review of the roaming regulation. It has been proposed a secure European e-identity Legislative for a trusted and secure European e-ID Initiative on, among other benefits, improving the working conditions of platform workers. Broadband connections are to be built to run a business effectively. Broadband is also key for home working, home learning, online shopping and new services as well as a huge opportunity and the prerequisite for revitalising rural areas, thus it will follow more investments on secure connectivity, on the expansion of 5G, 6G and the fiber.

The New Industrial Strategy for Europe

The EC will publish a new Industrial Strategy for Europe; the strategy will contain the Single Market Barriers Report and the Single Market Enforcement Action Plan. The new strategy focuses on advancing an industry that paves the way to climate-neutrality to achieve the EU goal by 2050 and implement the Green Deal. Furthermore, it will boost an industry shaping Europe’s digital future strengthening the digital single market to underpin Europe’s transition.

This vision for a new Industrial strategy must reflect EU values and social market traditions while ensuring the EU competitiveness and world-leading postion in a geopolitical changing world. It will allow economic growth to go hand-in-hand with improved social and living standards and good working conditions. In addition, a new SME Strategy intends to strengthen small and medium-sized enterprises in Europe and there will be an Action Plan on FinTech (financial technology) including a strategy on an integrated EU payments market.

2021 Digital Day

Last 19 March, the European Commission and the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU held the online event ‘Digital Day 2021’, during which, EU Member States signed three Declarations to pool efforts and resources to promote international connectivity, incentivise the transition to clean digital technologies and improve the regulatory environment for start-ups and scale-ups. To do this, Europe needs to accelerate the green and digital transformation and push for its vision and goals of the Digital Decade.

“The new commitments made today strengthen our joint ambitions for a human-centred approach to digitalisation. With several Member states signing, the declarations consolidate commitments within three areas, namely connectivity, start-ups and clean digital technologies, supporting our ambitions towards a more competitive, inclusive and green Europe”, Margrethe Vestager said.

The Digital Day is an important avenue for Member States to come together, around key digital goals and an evidence of EU determination to work together for greater digital leadership by 2030.

The Portuguese Presidency of the Council aims to play a decisive role as an accelerator of the digital transition, with commitments that will help Europe to position itself as a global digital leader, as defined in the Digital Decade Strategy. This was the fourth edition of the Digital Day, and it brought together Members of the European Parliament, Ministers from Member States, industry executives and several other stakeholders, following concrete commitments in three key areas: connectivity, start-ups and clean digital technologies.


Regarding global connectivity networks, through its data gateways, 27 European countries signed the Declaration on ‘European Data Gateways’ as a key element of the EU’s Digital Decade. It will reinforce connectivity between Europe and its partners in Africa, Asia, the European Neighbourhood and Latin America, providing among other innovations for an increased and secure data exchange. The EU already has strong data protection standards and high-quality connectivity but with this new intervention it aims at becoming a global, secure and agile data centre.


Twenty-five European countries signed the Declaration on ‘EU Startup Nations Standard’, which aims to ensure that all European start-ups and scale-ups share the best practices adopted by the already successful startup ecosystems. The EU Member states have identified a number of best practices that contribute to a growth-friendly environment. These include the processing of applications for visas from third countres talent, fiscal treatment of stock options and the rise f the amount and diversity of private capital to reduce the funding gap.

 Green & Digital transformation

Green & Digital transformation has become the general rule, central to the EU’s transition to a sustainable, digital and resilient economy. The EU intends to speed up the deployment and development of advanced digital technologies, such as 5G and 6G, fibre optics, high-performance computing and Internet of Things, as key solutions to achieve climate neutrality and drive the green and digital transitions in priority sectors, such as energy, transport, and manufacturing. Twenty-six top managers from the ICT sector joined the ‘European Green Digital Coalition’, committing to significantly reduce their carbon footprint by 2030, and to become climate neutral by 2040.

The funds will be focussing on the promotion of green cloud, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain technologies, as well as sustainable hardware, green public procurement, support for green tech start-ups and SMEs. In order to co-create deployment guidelines of green digital solutions and to accelerate the transition to the sustainability of sectors such as energy, transport, building and agriculture, energy- and materialefficient digital technologies is planned. This sustainable committment will be achieved with the support of relevant NGOs and expert organisations to measure and monitor the environmental impact of green digital solutions and many more.



European Commission (2018). 2030 Digital Compass: the European way for the Digital Decade. Retrieved from: ; Commission (2021). Horizon Europe Strategic Plan (2021 – 2024). Retrieved from:

European Commission (2021). Europe’s Digital Decade – Questions and Answers. Retrieved from:

European Commission (2021). Horizon Europe’s first strategic plan 2021-2024: Commission sets research and innovation priorities for a sustainable future. Retrieved from:

European Commission. Margrethe Vestager’s Bibliography. Retrieved from:

European Commission. President von der Leyen’s mission letter to Margrethe Vestager. Retrieved from:

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