Europe is growing and learning digitally

KB/SW – 10/2018

The acquisition of advanced digital skills is part of the Digital Europe programme which was proposed by the European Commission on 6 June 2018 and which is to be integrated into the ESF+ fund. It provides for long-term and short-term training, traineeships in companies, support to companies and administrations through targeted programmes which train advanced skills in the use of high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. 

The Digital Agenda for Europe, launched in May 2010, identified problems associated with digitalisation of the economy and society in the European Union, as well as various areas to be developed. These include better internet connectivity, the development of artificial intelligence, better access to high-speed broadband technology, the promotion of the Digital Single Market and improved digital competencies. Implementation in the EU is regularly reviewed and published via the Digital Transformation Scoreboard

On 14 November 2017, the European Commission also proposed the creation of a European Education Area in its Communication ‘Strengthening European Identity through Education and Culture’. This paper also places a strong emphasis on lifelong learning and digital education, especially as 44% of the EU population has limited digital competences. 

Accordingly, the Austrian Presidency also sees education as one of its key topics in its programme

Benefits for the healthcare and social systems

The opportunities provided by digitalisation should also be utilised in relation to healthcare and social systems. By providing information and communication technologies, people will be able to better monitor and maintain their health in the future. Aged care robots can help senior citizens with daily tasks in their homes and raise the alarm if a person falls over. 3D printers can create custom-fit implants and eventually replace organs or cells. People-centred technologies help disabled people participate in everyday life. Electronic health services ensure that healthcare in aging societies remain affordable for all. 

This requires not only the introduction of these technologies, but also the lifelong communication of the latest digital know-how. Otherwise, some of the population would not be able to use new forms of healthcare or new technologies in the health sector. In its conclusions on ‘Health in the Digital Society – making progress in data-driven innovation in the field of health’, the Council concludes that measures need to be put in place to improve citizens’ digital skills and to involve stakeholders, such as investment partnerships, in the area of Active and Healthy Ageing. 

The acquisition and lifelong training of digital skills is also a prerequisite for surviving digital work life and its new forms of work. According to the Digital Transformation Scoreboard, 35% of workers in Europe lacked adequate digital skills in 2017 and 17% of Europeans had never used the Internet. The absence of these skills can lead to job losses and an increase in social benefits which would put a massive financial burden on social security systems. 

Across the EU, European citizens have very different levels of digital skills. According to the Digital Transformation Scoreboard, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden have the highest scores, while Germany has dropped to fourteenth in the EU rankings and now has only a midfield placing. Latvia, Slovakia and Romania were at the bottom of the scoreboard. Countries with the highest levels of digital skills also have the highest uptake rates of digital technologies. 

In order to achieve more uniform development, the digital skills gap in Europe needs to be addressed. This can only be achieved with continuous digital training. Thus, training and lifelong digital learning remain an important requirement in the EU and must become an integral part of working life. Government institutions, businesses and citizens themselves must actively shape this process. The EU offers many programmes to support this. Among other initiatives, the ESF+ fund and the Erasmus+ programme aim to increase the quality of education and training and help EU citizens acquire the digital skills required by the industry. 

The ESF+ will work with other funds to increase flexibility and create synergies. The Commission will allocate €101.2 billion from the EU budget to the ESF+ for the 2021-2027 period. It is up to the Member States to determine how they use their ESF+ resources. 


On 30 May 2018, the European Commission published a proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+). This is currently being discussed in the relevant European Parliament committees. 

The aims of the proposal are to maintain the competitiveness of the European economy and ensure a high level of education and training, healthcare, social inclusion and citizens’ active participation in society. The aim of the fund, which comes into operation on 1 January 2021, is to empower EU Member States to tackle the challenges associated with skills shortages, shortcomings in labour market policy and education systems, modern technologies and new forms of work, social exclusion of marginalised groups, and low labour mobility. 

The overarching policy goal of the proposal is to implement the objectives of the European Pillar of Social Rights and to promote sustainable, inclusive growth in the EU. 

The ESF+ will invest in three main areas: 1. education, training and lifelong learning; 2. effectiveness of labour markets and equal access to quality employment; and 3. social inclusion, health and the fight against poverty.