A Sting Exclusive: “The challenge of Society’s digital transformation”, Spanish Minister of Spain for Industry, Energy and Tourism José Manuel Soria live from European Business Summit 2015

Written by Jose Manuel Soria, Minister of Spain for Industry, Energy and Tourism

José Manuel Soria is Minister of Spain for Industry, Energy and Tourism

José Manuel Soria is Minister of Spain for Industry, Energy and Tourism

The digital revolution that has accompanied the new millennium is a challenge of major social and economic dimensions. Digital infrastructures and services allow the development of a modern, innovative economic system. This transformational force affects all sectors and industries, and Europe should leverage this unprecedented opportunity for growth and job creation.

On the sixth of May, the European Commission would have presented its Digital Single Market Strategy. The strategy is a necessary step to solve Europe’s barriers to a rapid adoption of digital economy across the entire Union. The European Commission estimates that the successful implementation of a digital single market could contribute 340 billion euros to European GDP, create 3.8 million jobs and reduce the cost of public administrations by 15-20%.

But the Digital Single Market is not only about economy. It is also about fulfilling Union´s mission of building a Single Market – the free flow of goods and services, both in the physical and digital worlds. It is about Europe playing a leading role in the digital revolution with a single and distinguished voice based on European values and our acquis communautaire. It is, definitively, about securing the future of European citizens and business in the digital landscape of the 21st century.

Spain welcomes European Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy. While the details of the Strategy need to be carefully analyzed and there is no doubt that vibrant debates will arise, the path signaled by the Strategy will help Europe to succeed in our digital future. It is now crucial and urgent to seek consensus in the concrete actions among the European Institutions without forgetting the need of dialogue with the rest of the stakeholders. The digital world moves fast. Europe should not be slower in taking action.

However, to reap the benefits of digital technologies Europe not only needs the completion of the Digital Single Market, but also needs a dynamic and competitive digital sector. Fostering that sector and extending the reach of digital technologies can be promoted by Member States through national strategies aligned with European frameworks. That is what Spain has been doing for the past years.

In 2013 the Government of Spain approved the Digital Agenda for Spain, a strategy for the development of the digital economy based on the Digital Agenda for Europe. Through a set of nine specific plans and a budget exceeding 2.4 billion euros, the Agenda tackles the challenges of the digital era and focuses specially on the extension of high-speed broadband networks, digitization of industry and small and medium enterprises, roll-out of digital public services and promotion of R&D in Information and Communication Technologies.

Some of the most promising results of the Agenda have occurred in the field of high-speed broadband infrastructures, which are essential to build an economy based on data, cloud and digital innovation. 2014 has been an accelerated year digital wise; a year that has brought renewed investment and competition. For example, more than 700.000 homes were covered with fiber to the home networks each month during 2014. At the end of the year, more than 15 million homes had access to fiber networks and more than 10 million homes had access to high-speed cable. I want to highlight the impact of the new General Telecommunications Act in this success. The new Act, approved by ample consensus in Parliament, facilitates network deployment, increases legal certainty and cuts red tape.

In addition, the Agenda promotes areas of great industrial and social impact. The latest initiatives of the Agenda embrace ambitious targets regarding the deployment of smart cities and the introduction of digital technologies in the educational system.

Both Europe and Spain should take advantage of the potential of this industry to generate economic growth and employment. Through the Spanish National Smart City Plan, the Government will dedicate more than 150 million euros to promote the industry around the paradigm of smart cites and to help municipalities in their transition to smart cities. In addition to support industry and cities, the plan promotes standardization, international cooperation and seeks the consensus and coordination between all sector agents and various administrations.

Digital technologies also play a key role in providing a modern education public service, and high-speed broadband is a prerequisite for that. However, in Spain only one out of ten schools has access to high-speed connections. In order to solve this challenge, the Government will invest 330 million euros co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund to provide ultrafast broadband connections to all primary and secondary schools in Spain. The program, called connected schools, will benefit more than 16,500 schools and more than 6.5 million students. This strong, nationwide commitment to modernize the education system will contribute both to close the digital divide and to foster equal opportunities, as investments will focus especially in rural and remote areas.

Spain is also gaining momentum as an entrepreneurial hub in the digital economy. Latest reports place Spain as the fourth European country in terms of deals of venture capital for technological start-ups, only behind United Kingdom, France and Germany. Some of the leading events in technology take place in Spain. Examples such as the Mobile World Congress, the International Digital Content Forum or the Smart City Expo World Congress attract entrepreneurs, investors and key players from all countries to grasp the opportunities offered by digital technologies in order to create new products and services. These events also provide a great platform to enhance collaboration between institutions and global private industry, as well as to promote the digital economy as an attractive career option for young people.

The transformation towards a digitized economy is one of the main challenges of the 21st century. Civil society, private sector and governments should work together to implement the Digital Single Market and to create a vibrant, inclusive and competitive digital economy for all. Europe’s future depends largely on the outcome of this task.

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