Kailey Fuller-JacksonDigital Venice kicks off today starting a week-long programme in which policy makers, industry representatives, regulators, academics and civil society groups will be discussing innovation, inclusion, and industry focusing on how to encourage growth in all these areas. Ahead of his talk there on “eSkills for Growth”, DIGITALEUROPE’s Director General John Higgins spoke to our Kailey Fuller-Jackson about the EU’s Digital Agenda, net neutrality, and the ICT industry’s view on progress.

JohnHiggins

John Higgins, Director General DIGITALEUROPE

What is DIGITALEUROPE’s position on Europe’s Digital Agenda? How do you think it is going?

In this new age, digital technology has rapidly become the primary transformational power driving productivity growth, innovation and job creation in every sector of the European economy. DIGITALEUROPE applauds the Digital Agenda achievements so far because it  is supporting this transformation by strengthening all of Europe’s industry through the application of digital technologies – such as in the energy, manufacturing, transportation and healthcare sector.

The completion of a Digital Single Market will facilitate this process and ensure global competitiveness of the European market and economic wealth for all its citizens. Another initiative of the Digital Agenda aims to help Europe’s citizens and businesses to get the most out of digital technologies. This will reduce digital exclusion and increase the prospects for sustainable jobs for European citizens.

How well do you think the Digital Agenda accounts for the digitally excluded?

More than 100 million European citizens are at risk of digital exclusion. One of the main targets of the Digital Agenda is to enhance digital literacy, skills and inclusion to achieve the goal of ‘Every European Digital’ by 2020. Andit is already doing much to address the current e-skills gap and ensure that all citizens have the basic skills to take advantage of the many opportunities offered by the modern technologies.

The e-skills for jobs campaign 2014 – for example – looks also at addressing gender gap by supporting initiatives aimed to empower and encourage girls and young women to consider careers in the growing ICT sector. The Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs is another great initiative of the Digital Agenda which aims to facilitate collaboration between industry and education providers to facilitate the transformation of education and training to face the challenges of 21st century and ensure that young people are equipped with the skills for employment.

Your organization represents companies across the EU and in states in the accession process you see any differences across Europe in terms of progress on digital inclusion and digital skills?

At a time where digital skills have become essential in the daily life of every citizen, I think all EU Member States have understood the importance of raising such skills among the general population. The Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs is the perfect example of how Member States are putting in place practical initiatives to address the e-skills gap in their country and ensure digital inclusion.

But there are also many pan-European initiatives, such as the already mentioned e-skills for Jobs campaign 2014 involving many of the EU candidate countries – which are surely not behind when it comes to understanding the importance digital inclusion. One of our partners, Empirica, monitors the level of digital skills across the EU and you can see in their country reports that progress is not limited to the old member states.

You mentioned earlier that the Digital Single Market is key to fulfilling the Digital Agenda, but there has been some controversy over what rules should govern that single market, especially on net neutrality. How do you think the current net neutrality proposal, if passed, will affect innovation in your industries?

DIGITALEUROPE fully supports an open and innovative Internet. An open internet is a prerequisite for a competitive and dynamic European ICT sector and the source of an extraordinarily wide variety of rich and innovative content and services.

What is important is to maintain the open internet we enjoy today. For future-proof legislation that will attract much needed investment in infrastructure, DIGITALEUROPE hopes that member states – which are now dealing with the Connected Continent proposal – strip it of the excessive technical details and giving a clearer line regarding the broader political debate around “net neutrality”.

People often think that the business sector and internet activist groups are on different sides of debates about internet governance, such as on net neutrality or data protection. What do you think?

Net neutrality and data protection are indeed two of the most hotly debated topics in Europe. However, I can see some basic assumptions that both industry sector and civil society will agree on: European citizens’ data should receive the appropriate safeguards. This will enhance consumers’ trust, which will ultimately allow industry to continue to deliver innovative and value-adding digital products and services for all EU citizens.

There has been much talk recently about the EC’s Open Innovation strategy. What do you think is the key to encouraging digital innovation in Europe?

Jobs and economic growth are fuelled by innovative European digital industries, especially SMEs. We need to ensure that these SMEs get the support they need.

We have to encourage young students to start new businesses and support entrepreneurs that offer new digital products and services, invent innovative business models and thrive through the intelligent use of novel digital technologies.

At DIGITALEUROPE we are supporting the set up a mentoring ecosystem to help spark, support and expand new business ideas and fuel Digital Entrepreneurship in Europe.