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European Commission versus digitalising

17. 5. 2016 | Ing. Josef Košťál | ELEKTRO | www.eel.cz

Digitisation has been changing not just our economy but also our daily lives for at least the last twenty years. This process will continue for the foreseeable future. Where digital was once a niche market for specialists, it has become a general purpose technology which is affecting all sectors of the economy and society – the digital economy. These changes are happening at a scale and speed that bring immense opportunities for innovation, growth and jobs. They also raise challenging policy issues for public authorities which require coordinated EU action. This is why the European Commission launched in 2010 the Digital Agenda – a programme which sets objectives for the growth of the European Union by 2020. Its main objective is to develop a digital single market, based on fast and superfast Internet and interoperable applications, in order to generate smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe. Editor's office of the ELEKTRO magazine addressed the European Commission to ask some questions to Mrs. Anne-Marie Sassen, Deputy Head of Unit Complex Systems and Advanced Computing, about digitisation process within the European Union.

What role does play the European Commission in initiative Industry 4.0 and IoT, respectively?

The European Commission plays several roles in Industry 4.0 and IoT. The first role is at the level of research.

Within the context of Horizon 2020, there are possibilities for European companies to carry out research, development and innovation projects in these fields. There is for instance the "Factories of the Future" programme or the IoT large scale pilot actions.

Apart from the research actions, we also develop actions to make sure that the industry in Europe is in a good position to benefit from the developments in the field of Industry 4.0 or IoT. The uptake of digital technologies will be essential in order for the European industry to remain competitive, and to keep production of goods and services in Europe. It will be a big challenge for the whole of European industry to undergo a digital transformation. Many countries are taking actions to stimulate "Industry 4.0", also the Czech Republic. That is very good and useful. At European level it is also important that all these initiatives in the countries are collaborating with each other, that they can share lessons learned and do not need to reinvent the wheel. And that they do not develop solutions that are only applicable in their own country. Because in an Industry 4.0 situation value chains are networked and span across several countries, so we need European or global solutions. Furthermore, there are also countries that are not having "Industry 4.0" types of plans. At the European level, we therefore want to ensure collaboration between the national initiatives and take additional measures that can also help companies in those countries without a specific plan. That will deliver the scale that is needed for the whole of Europe to benefit. For that purpose, the European Commission has adopted on 19 April 2016 a set of Communications on "Digitising European Industry". 

What are the benefits of the digital economy and society for the EU and single countries, respectively?

The Internet and digital technologies are transforming our world – in every walk of life and in every line of business. Europe must embrace the digital revolution and open up digital opportunities for people and businesses. How? By using the power of the EU's Single Market. This is one of the top priorities of the European Commission, to create a Digital Single Market.

At present, barriers online mean citizens miss out on goods and services: only 15 % shop online from another EU country; Internet companies and start-ups cannot take full advantage of growth opportunities online: only 7 % of SMEs sell cross-border. Finally, businesses and governments are not fully benefitting from digital tools. The aim of the Digital Single Market is to tear down regulatory walls and finally move from 28 national markets to a single one. A fully functional Digital Single Market could contribute € 415 billion per year to our economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. 

What are the benefits for big corporations, and what impact does it have on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and citizens?

Big corporations:

  • Clearer rules to develop in a market of more than 500 million consumers
  • A level-playing field for competing actors on the market, traditional players and newcomers
  • Public investment and partnership with the industry, notably on cybersecurity
  • Better and safer use of digital technologies, such as cloud computing or big data, reducing risks and costs
  • Standards and greater interoperability in all sectors (such as energy, transport and health) to develop products and services faster, boost innovation and reduce costs 

SMEs and start-ups

  • Clearer rules to sell cross-border and scale-up businesses in a market of more than 500 million consumers
  • Less costs to grow cross-border: no need to adapt to each country’s consumer law and a VAT system better adapted to small e-commerce businesses
  • More opportunities with greater access to content, goods and services from other EU countries and more opportunities to collaborate in different value chains
  • Lower parcel delivery prices 


  • More choice with greater access to content, goods and services from other EU countries
  • Lower delivery prices
  • More work opportunities and possibilities to develop digital skills 

Who will be winners and who losers?

This is difficult to say, we are now at the beginning of digital transformation. The winners will be those companies that can use digital technologies to their advantage, the losers will be those that do not understand and not know how to apply digital technologies. They will not have the flexibility to produce efficiently tailor made products, exactly according to the needs of the customer. 

How will change labour market within the EU by the digitalisation?

The labour market will certainly change. You can already seeing it in the bank sector for instance. Since now customers are doing a lot of transactions themselves through e-banking, certain types of jobs are no longer necessary. Also in manufacturing, some jobs will be taken over by robots. But at the same time new jobs will be created. Someone needs to program the robot for instance, or someone needs to solve the problems that a robot cannot solve. For sure, we need to do more research on whether jobs will be created or destroyed. If the past is any indicator, however, we shouldn't be too worried. The first industrial revolution was also feared by many, but created millions of jobs in the long term. Why should the fourth industrial revolution be different? Yes, some jobs will disappear, but other jobs will be created. However, what is sure is that we do need to train the workers with the necessary digital skills to be prepared for the future. 

How is the EU prepared for the „total″ digitalisation of economy and Society?

This is a very difficult question. The EU is well prepared, but changes are going so quickly that we need to stay alert and make sure that industry can become more efficient and competitive through digitisation. Then we can keep the factories in Europe and with it also the knowledge for future challenges. 

Are there any rating criteria of the preparedness? If it is the case, so – in your opinion – how is the Czech Republic complied with them?

The Czech Republic is also in a relatively good state. Your current level of digitisation is just below the EU average, and you are also an industrialised country. The "Industry 4.0" initiative of CZ is very timely and will help the companies to make their digital transformation. 

What is your imagination of implementation and functioning of the digitalised Europe?

We cannot imagine how it will look like. Before the internet we could have also not imagined how we now can search for information on the internet, how we can make videoconference calls over the internet, etc. The same will happen with Industry 4.0. 

Is there any time limit for the digitalised Europe?

All we know is that now we are at the beginning, we cannot really forecast when it will end.

Josef Košťál, editor-in-chief of ELEKTRO magazine, led the interview