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COVID-19 accelerated digital transition in EU, but cities and regions warn against growing inequalities  

​​ CoR calls for a European comprehensive approach to 5G networks

The COVID-19 crisis and the lockdowns across Europe have clearly demonstrated the need for digital infrastructures and solutions more than ever before. Digital transformation plays a crucial role in the EU's response to the pandemic and in the future recovery. ​Particular attention should be drawn to avoiding the growth of inequalities and the creation of a digital divide. Digital skills should be developed. Adequate infrastructure and tailored solutions should be made available, in particular to SMEs. A comprehensive and joint EU approach to boost the security and resilience of 5G networks is key. These are the main messages included in an opinion on digital and data, adopted by unanimity by the Committee of the Regions' Plenary.

During the crisis, the use of digital technologies turned into an imperative to ensure continuity of work and private life. Public administrations and businesses in Europe's regions, cities and villages have experienced how digital technology became key in alleviating the impact of the crisis and in fighting the pandemic. The opinion A Strategy for Europe's Digital future and A Strategy for Data , drafted by Mark Weinmeister (DE/EPP) Secretary of State for European Affairs of the Land of Hesse, recognizes the central role of digital transformation in the EU’s response to COVID-19.

"Digitisation must generate a noticeable benefit for people. Therefore, in addition to the development of digital technologies and digital skills we also need to take ethical, legal and socio-political aspects into account. Smart regions - which means connected regions - should lead to citizens directly benefitting from the advantages of comprehensive digitisation. And this progress must be carried out at the same pace in both rural and urban regions " said the rapporteur Mark Weinmeister.

For the crisis recovery, the CoR calls for a comprehensive and joint EU approach to boost the security and resilience of 5G networks, and points out that a common European minimum safety standard generates overall positive results. At the same time, local and regional leaders ask for awareness-raising and educational measures to ensure citizens fully understand the benefits of an advanced generation of digital infrastructure − including studies of their effect on health and the environment − rather than becoming victims of fake news.

With at least 20% of the funds under the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility earmarked for the digital transition, local and regional leaders confirm that a significant amount of public resources will be needed to support digitalisation and thus Europe's technological sovereignty. Cities, villages and regions would benefit from simpler funding rules, giving the chance to apply to as many businesses and research institutions as possible.

The first Annual Regional and Local Barometer , presented on 12 October by the CoR's president Apostolos Tzitzikostas, underlines that the COVID-19 crisis is likely to reinforce ongoing trends in the spread of digital services, but also in the tendencies towards a digital divide and inequality. It is likely to force cities to become safer while becoming greener, and non-urban environments to ensure maximum digital connectivity.

The Barometer provides an overview of the often very innovative initiatives taken by local and regional authorities to face the challenges of the pandemic. Regions, cities and villages also went digital, such as with the creation of online platforms aiming to boost collaboration among different stakeholders in order to cope with the challenges raised by COVID-19.

Background:

In 2017, the Committee of the Regions and the European Commission jointly launched the Broadband Platform , with the aim to help high-speed broadband reach all European regions, including rural and sparsely populated areas where there is not enough market-driven development. Local and regional authorities are those who provide digital services for citizens and manage the digital infrastructure. Therefore, the Platform is a key instrument in making the voice of local and regional authorities heard through the important added value of the CoR and its members, feeding the European Commission's policy-making process.

The members of the platform from the European Commission and the CoR meet twice a year to address issues that hamper the connectivity of underserviced areas.

Contact:

Matteo Miglietta

Tel. +32 (0)2 282 2440

Mobile: +32 (0)470 895382

matteo.miglietta@cor.europa.eu