The contribution of the Thematic S3 interregional partnerships to the EU Digital transition

#17, November 2021

Cecilia Gañán de Molina

External EC Expert on Regional and Urban Policies

The COVID-19 pandemic, which started as a health crisis but soon resulted into a systemic one, highlighted not only how much vulnerable we are, but also how much we rely on digital technologies, especially in a crisis context. In the September 2020 State of the Union Address, President Von der Leyen advocated for Europe to ensure digital sovereignty with a common EU vision for 2030, based on clear goals and principles. The President placed particular emphasis on a 'European cloud', leadership in ethical artificial intelligence, a secure digital identity for all and vastly improved data, supercomputer and connectivity infrastructures.

In response to this, the European Council invited the Commission to present a full 'Digital Compass', outlining digital ambitions for 2030. This Digital Compass for the EU's digital decade evolves around four cardinal points: Skills, Digital transformation of businesses, Secure and sustainable digital infrastructures and Digitalisation of public services. This vision is being implemented, among other instruments, through the new Digital Europe Programme (DIGITAL), which is a new EU funding programme focused on bringing digital technology to businesses, citizens and public administrations. This Programme will provide strategic funding to answer these challenges, supporting projects in key capacity areas and ensuring a wide use of digital technologies across the economy and society, including through Digital Innovation Hubs. It will increase the capacities of the selected hubs to cover activities with a clear European added value, based on networking and promoting the transfer of expertise.

DIGITAL will be complementary to other EU programmes, such as the Horizon Europe programme and the Connecting Europe Facility for digital infrastructure; the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which establishes the obligation for national recovery and resilience plans to allocate at least 20% of expenditure to the digital transition; or the new Cohesion framework 2021-2027  which includes among its objectives to promote the uptake of advanced technologies, the digitalisation and the development of skills, or the scale up of innovative ideas and technologies.

But the European digital transition, as any other complex process, requires integrating different communities, knowledge, markets, assets and stakeholders. This is the reason why the Thematic Smart Specialisation (S·3) Interregional Partnerships, like the Agri-Food S·3 Partnership on Traceability and Big Data, can play a major role in facilitating the path by identifying smart complementarities for the transformation. Complementarily, the updated Industrial Policy is expected to be instrumental in this approach, and a reinforced collaboration between S·3 partnerships (which bring all the regional stakeholders together), and Clusters (which are at the intersection of regional and industrial policies) will be needed to ensure scaling up of digital and green solutions for the recovery that are not only sustainable and innovative, but also inclusive and place-based.