View from Brussels: EU’s big tech year
The European Union has a big year ahead of it, especially when it comes to all things digital. A packed agenda full of tech policies will delve into everything from artificial intelligence and critical materials to space exploration and patents.
According to the EU’s ‘Digital Decade’ programme, 80 per cent of adults should have basic digital skills by 2030 and 20 million ICT experts should be employed around the 27-country bloc.
There are also other objectives related to business: 75 per cent of businesses should use the cloud, artificial intelligence and big data by the end of the decade, while 90 per cent of small- and medium-sized firms should be digitally literate.
With just seven years until 2030, the EU is now stepping up its efforts to increase digitisation and will this year publish a number of plans to help it reach its lofty goals.
In February, a big package of rules related to digital and education skills will be introduced and then later in the year, new legislation linked to patents will be introduced. Those rules will include standard essential patents for certain products.
EU governments and lawmakers are also expected to finalise an agreement on a new artificial intelligence act, after members of the European Parliament vote on their position in March.
The act will define what artificial intelligence actually is and how it should be used, who should be tasked with enforcing the new rules and how it should apply to critical infrastructure.
Technology will drive Europe’s digitalisation, but a growing need for raw materials to produce everything from semiconductors and electric car batteries to solar panels risks becoming the new oil dependency.
That is why the EU’s executive branch will reveal a critical raw materials act in March. This will likely seek to ramp up domestic production of crucial elements like lithium, as well as doubling down on recycling capacity.
Ongoing negotiations with non-EU countries like Australia and Kazakhstan over access to important raw materials are likely to bear fruit this year too.
The EU’s Chips Act – aimed at boosting domestic semiconductor production – will also be in the spotlight, while existing programmes dedicated to electric vehicle batteries are predicted to go from strength to strength as investments pour in.
Regulators have already come up with rules to govern digital markets and digital services, and those laws will be fully bedded in this year after debuting midway through 2022. Now EU officials are turning to the next-generation of online platforms: the metaverse.
Even though these virtual worlds are far from ubiquitous and there is no guarantee they will prove to be anything other than a passing fad, Brussels will publish in May its first guidelines on how metaverses should be governed.
Whether this will then lead to full-fat legislation with legally-binding norms and practices will remain to be seen, but the EU’s insistence on being a rule maker rather than a ‘rule taker’ will be on full display there.
Just before the summer break, officials will lift the lid on a new space and defence programme, which will include a space strategy and a new defence investment plan.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has hampered EU space missions to an extent, as European operators no longer use Russia’s space bases to access the cosmos. In the same vein, European defence capabilities have never been under such scrutiny.
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