State of play and outlook.

TH – 02/2019

The digital revolution is transforming the world as we know it faster than ever before. Digital technologies are changing forever the way companies work, how people connect and share information, and how the public and private sectors interact.

The 2014-2019 legislative term has seen a number of initiatives in areas such as the digitalisation of industry and public services, investment in digital infrastructure and services, research programmes, cybersecurity, e-commerce, copyright law and data protection. However, among EU citizens there is a growing awareness of the fact that digital technologies already play an important role in their everyday lives and they will play an even stronger role in the future.

In a 2017 Eurobarometer survey, two-thirds of respondents stated that digital technologies have a positive impact on society and on their own life. However, the majority of respondents felt that the EU, Member State public authorities and businesses need to take action to address the impact of digital technologies.

Accordingly, the European Union intends to step up its support of the digital transformation in the coming years, as seen in the recent proposal for the Digital Europe Programme for 2021-2027. This will be the first funding programme dedicated solely to supporting the digital transformation in the EU.  

There is a clear need for further action by the EU, in particular to increase infrastructure investment and innovation, to digitalise companies and public administrations, to reduce the current digital divide, to remove any remaining barriers to the Digital Single Market, and to ensure there is an appropriate legal and regulatory framework in the digital economy for areas such as data storage, artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity.

What’s already been achieved?

As part of the e-Government Action Plan 2016-2020, several initiatives have already been adopted in order to digitalise the public sector and modernise digital public services. Mentioned here are only the eIDAS Regulation on the cross-border recognition of electronic identification, which entered into force in September 2018 and the Single Digital Gateway Regulation of October 2018 which provides businesses and citizens with a single online access point to information on national laws, administrative requirements and procedures.

Under the new data protection rules that commenced on 25 May 2018, Europeans can now securely transfer personal information between online service providers, and they have the right to know how their personal data is collected. In addition, the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ means that, if requested, personal data must be deleted if a company does not have a legitimate reason for keeping it.


The EU is a global leader in issues related to the ethics of AI, and for some time there has been much discussion on how to reconcile technologies and ethical standards in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence.

In 2018, the Commission consulted all relevant stakeholders and set up the High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence. In 2019, it is planned to publish a series of EU ethical guidelines on issues such as fairness, security, transparency, data protection, protection of personal data and non-discrimination. On 18 February 2019, the Council adopted the conclusions on the European Coordinated Plan on Artificial Intelligence.

Future steps: what still needs to be done?

Access to and the re-use of digital data, particularly non-personal and machine-generated data, is one of the most important prerequisites for the digital transformation in many areas in the EU, including healthcare and long-term care.


Thus, new initiatives are needed to continue harmonising data exchange rules, especially in terms of the interaction between companies and administrations. Questions related to the ownership of data need to be clarified (who uses what and why under which legal conditions).


The current lack of interoperability for electronic medical records in the EU (see our article from December 2018) has significant drawbacks and it limits progress in terms of health research, prevention strategies and personalised medicine.


The digitalisation of the public sector (eGovernment) should focus on continuing the implementation of the 2016-2020 Action Plan. Further EU action can be taken in line with the Tallinn Declaration of 2017, in particular the interconnectivity of public services, the ability to reuse public sector data and the acquisition of digital skills for staff in public administrations.