EU Commission released the results of the 2020 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which monitors Europe’s overall digital performance and tracks the progress of EU countries with respect to their digital competitiveness. This year’s DESI shows that there is progress in all Member States and all key areas measured in the index. This becomes all the more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which has demonstrated how essential digital technologies have become, by allowing work to continue, monitoring the spread of the virus, or accelerating the search for cures and vaccines. Furthermore, the DESI indicators relevant for the recovery show that EU Member States should step up their efforts to improve the coverage of Very High Capacity Networks, assign 5G spectrum to enable the commercial launch of 5G services, improve citizens’ digital skills and further digitise businesses and the public sector.
Executive Vice-President, Margrethe Vestager, said: “The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated how crucial it is for citizens and businesses to be connected and to be able to interact with each other online. We will continue to work with Member States to identify areas where more investment is needed so that all Europeans can benefit from digital services and innovations.”
Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, added: “The data we publish today shows that industry is using digital solutions now more than ever. We need to ensure this is also the case for small and medium businesses and that the most advanced digital technologies are deployed throughout the economy.”
In the context of the recovery plan for Europe, adopted on 27 May 2020, DESI will inform country-specific analysis to support the digital recommendations of the European Semester. This will assist Member States to target and prioritise their reform and investment needs, thereby facilitating access to the Recovery and Resilience Facility worth €560 billion. The Facility will provide Member States with the funds to make their economies more resilient and ensure that investments and reforms will support the green and digital transitions.
Main findings of the 2020 DESI
Finland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands are the leaders in overall digital performance in the EU. Malta, Ireland and Estonia are following right after. The International Digital Economy and Society Index (I-DESI) shows that the best performing EU countries are also worldwide leaders. The largest EU economies are not digital frontrunners, which indicates that the speed of digital transformation must accelerate for the EU to successfully deliver on the twin digital and green transformations. Over the last 5 years, Ireland has made the most significant progress, followed by the Netherlands, Malta and Spain. These countries also perform well above the EU average as measured by the DESI score.
As the pandemic has had a significant impact on each of the five dimensions tracked by DESI, the 2020 findings should be read in conjunction with the numerous measures taken by the Commission and Member States to manage the crisis and support the recovery. Member States took action to minimise contagion and to support healthcare systems, such as by introducing applications and platforms to facilitate telemedicine and coordinate healthcare resources. The Commission also took action, such as issuing a Recommendation on a common Union toolbox for the use of technology and data to combat and enable the exit from the crisis, in particular on mobile applications and the use of anonymised data in tracing apps. The Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC), upon request of the Commission, started to monitor internet traffic to avoid congestion.
Main findings in 5 digital areas
The Digital Economy and Society Index tracks the progress made in Member States in 5 principal policy areas, namely connectivity, digital skills, internet usage by individuals, integration of digital technologies by businesses and digital public services.
Connectivity has improved but more needs to be done to address fast-growing needs. Member States are working on the transposition of new EU rules adopted in 2018 into national legislation, with a view to fostering investment in Very High Capacity Networks, both fixed and mobile. 78% of households had a fixed broadband subscription in 2019, up from 70% 5 years ago, and 4G networks cover almost the entire European population. But only 17 Member States have already assigned spectrum in the 5G pioneer bands, (5 countries more than last year). Finland, Germany, Hungary and Italy are the most advanced on 5G readiness. Fixed Very High Capacity broadband networks are available to 44% of EU homes.
More progress in digital skills is needed, especially since the coronavirus crisis has shown that adequate digital skills are crucial for citizens to be able to access information and services. A large part of the EU population, 42%, still lacks at least basic digital skills. In 2018, some 9.1 million people worked as ICT specialists across the EU, 1.6 million more than 4 years ago. 64% of large enterprises and 56% of SMEs that recruited ICT specialists during 2018 reported that vacancies for ICT specialists were hard to fill.
Although the pandemic has seen a sharp increase in internet use, the trend was already present before the crisis, with 85% of people using the internetat least once a week(up from 75% in 2014). The use of video calls has grown the most, from 49% of internet users in 2018 to 60% in 2019. Internet banking and shopping are also more popular than in the past, being used by 66% and 71% of internet users respectively.
Enterprises are becoming more and more digitised, with large companies taking the lead. 38.5% of large companies already rely on advanced cloud services and 32.7% reported that they use big data analytics. However, the vast majority of SMEs do not yet use these digital technologies, as only 17% of them use cloud services and only 12% big data analytics. As for e-commerce, only 17.5% of SMEs sold products or services online in 2019, following a very slight increase of 1.4 percentage points compared to 2016. In contrast, 39% of large enterprises made use of online sales in 2019.
In order to boost e-commerce, the EU has agreed on a series of measures ranging from ending unjustified cross-border barriers and facilitating cheaper cross-border parcel deliveries to ensuring protection of online customer rights and promoting cross-border access to online content. Since December 2018, consumers and companies are entitled to find the best online deals throughout the EU without experiencing discrimination based on their nationality or place of residence.
Finally, there is an increasing trend towards the use of digital public services in the areas of eGovernment and eHealth, which allows for more efficiency and savings for governments and businesses, improved transparency, and the greater participation of citizens in political life. 67% of internet users who submitted forms to their public administration in 2019 now use online channels, up from 57% in 2014, showing the convenience of using ICT-enabled services over paper-based ones. The top performers in this area are Estonia, Spain, Denmark, Finland and Latvia.
The annual Digital Economy and Society Index measures the progress of EU Member States in their steps towards a digital economy and society, on the basis of Eurostat data as well as specialised studies and collection methods. The DESI 2020 reports are based on 2019 data. To improve the methodology of the index and take account of the latest technological developments, a number of changes were made to the 2020 edition, which now includes fixed very high capacity network (VHCN) coverage. The DESI was re-calculated for all countries for previous years to reflect the changes in the choice of indicators and corrections made to the underlying data. Country scores and rankings may thus have changed compared with previous publications. As the figures refer to 2019, the United Kingdom is included in the 2020 DESI and in calculated EU averages.