On 17, 18 and 23 November, participants of the European Committee of the Regions' (CoR) programme Young Elected Politicians (YEP) gathered in a Forum to formulate their recommendations for the future of Europe, with a focus on digitalisation. Anne Karjalainen (FI/PES), Chair of the Commission for social policy, education, employment, research and culture (SEDEC) of the CoR, Member of the Commission for Economic Policy (ECON) and Chair of Kerava City Council, opened the workshop on digitalisation.
In her introductory remarks, she stated: "Young people can foster sustainable digital inclusion, which is key to achieve digital cohesion."
Ms Karjalainen explained that "digital cohesion means securing high-quality stable digital connectivity for all, regardless of their socio-economic background or geographical location." Digital cohesion is achieved by minimizing disparities in availability and access to up-to-date digital infrastructure across the EU, and by ensuring that everyone obtains the necessary skills and equipment to embrace the full potential of the digital transformation.
The COVID-19 pandemic can be viewed as a learning opportunity. Coordinated and comprehensive strategies across all levels of government in the EU should be employed to bridge digital divides for a sustainable recovery.
Ms Karjalainen described connectivity as a public good and advocated that local and regional authorities play a key role in ensuring universal and affordable broadband access in areas where the market fails. Adequate funding is necessary for this.
Following the YEPs workshop on digital transformation, Ms Karjalainen agreed that interoperability is essential for a smooth digital transition and should gradually become the norm for public administration. She also added that European digital platforms, a YEP proposal to foster cooperation and discussions on digital, are "important to build the EU's autonomy in the face of digital giants. At the same time, data protection should remain a key priority."
The recommendations of the YEP Forum were presented to CoR members during the plenary session in December. They will serve as an addition to the CoR’s contribution to the Conference on the Future of Europe and feed into the European Year of Youth 2022. The proposals on digital transformation were presented to members of the CoR's Commission for economic policy (ECON) on 14 December within the framework of the discussion on Digital Cohesion and the Conference on the Future of Europe. These recommendations will be taken into consideration by the newly appointed rapporteur for the CoR opinion on "Digital cohesion", Gaetano Armao (IT/EPP), with the adoption foreseen in July in the ECON commission and in October 2022 in the Plenary session.