COVID-19

Out of crisis, a way forward: What is the impact of COVID-19 on Europe’s digital priorities?

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An overview from FTI Consulting Brussels

Since the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the continent, European industries have been left with a multitude of unprecedented challenges to tackle and address. It has created steep and immediate changes in consumer behaviour and business practices – pushing firms to digitalise to survive. In its efforts to weather the crisis and build a more resilient, globally competitive economy, the European Commission has pledged to prioritise digital and green transformations through targeted funding and new legislative rules. FTI Consulting Brussels looks at the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the EU’s digital priorities, reviewing the policy and economic implications for businesses, and outlining new considerations when engaging in Brussels policymaking. 

The disruption caused by COVID-19 is having a substantial impact on European companies, large and small. While challenges differ across sectors, many have been faced with substantial workforce and financing issues and forced to rethink key business operations and processes. This has created a significant and immediate acceleration of the digital transition of Europe’s business environment.

This digital transition also includes a major shift towards supporting more automation and the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The debate around AI has been gathering pace for several years. To remain competitive in a global marketplace Europe cannot afford to continue lagging behind (source: European Centre for Vocational Training) other parts of the world, in its uptake. Indeed, the ability of businesses to build resilience will depend on the swift uptake of automation and other key technologies such as artificial intelligence (source DigitalEurope). These technologies bring efficiencies in production and operations which can quickly adjust to changes in volume and specifications with the minimum of disruption – an increasingly attractive proposition to sectors hit hard by the pandemic.

Given this increased focus and impetus, it is important to follow the European debate as the EU seeks to prioritise its support for this digital programme. On taking office late last year, the von der Leyen Commission made a strong commitment to a more sovereign Europe.  The Covid-19 Pandemic has focussed minds further with a series of additional priorities and commitments.

The impact of COVID-19 in European Commission’s policy (and political) priorities

In the longer term, COVID-19 has only served to reiterate the urgency for Europe to achieve ‘technological sovereignty’ and global leadership and be able to compete with China and the United States. Indeed, European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, reiterated that the core priorities of the EU’s industrial and digital strategies remain valid (source: European Commission, A New Industrial Strategy for Europe, Shaping Europe’s Digital Future), and that the EU’s economic recovery will have to be in line with the EU’s industrial, digital and green transformations. These ambitions have been echoed by Germany and France, the EU’s two primary economic powerhouses, who are pushing for a generous EU economic recovery package to support European industries, coupled with a strong EU industrial policy to achieve Europe’s sovereignty ambitions.

In its aim to deliver on these goals, the Commission is committed to deploying a broad range of initiatives, ranging from unlocking funding from the EU’s next seven-year budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 and broader COVID-19 economic recovery plan, to revamping competition and the regulatory regime. The Commission’s main goal is to help European companies scale up while doubling down on foreign multinationals.

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