The importance of technology and sustainability has been bubbling for years, but has it taken a pandemic to focus policy towards a greener, digital and more resilient future?

Digital technologies during the pandemic have been central to the continued functioning of economic and social life. Families and friends have stayed connected over mobile devices, businesses have pivoted to operate remotely and e-learning platforms have assisted in children’s ongoing learning. It is likely that these adaptations have triggered permanent and systemic changes to social and economic life, so what will the future hold?

The European Commission has published its Covid-19 recovery plan for Europe with a focus on repairing and preparing for the next generation. The €750 billion package details a fund for the future of Europe centred around three main pillars i) support for member states to invest and reform, ii) incentives for private investment, and iii) implementation of the EU4Health program to prepare and learn from Covid-19.

A policy fundamental to the European recovery package is the prioritisation of the ‘social dimension’ which pledges to show ‘clarity of purpose and certainty of direction’ through policies which strive towards a fairer and greener Europe.

Stated alongside sustainability as a key focus for the future of European investment and policies, is a drive for a ‘deeper and more digital single market’. The prioritisation of digital platforms will have an impact on technology and data businesses across Europe.  Businesses may be driven to set up in Europe if the Commission follows through with the incentives suggested in the recovery report.  There are four central elements to the digital recovery of Europe:

  1. Investment in connectivity: The development of 5G and enhancing network connectivity and digital bandwidth.  This will build infrastructure to support future growth. 

  2. Enhanced presence in the digital supply chain: The Commission has stated that investment into strategic digital capacities and capabilities will be a priority, including AI, cybersecurity, secured communications, data and cloud infrastructure and supercomputers.

  3. Data Economy: The report promotes the building of a ‘real data economy’ as a motor for innovation and job creation.  Recognising that data offers opportunities for businesses to develop products and services, the Commission will legislate to facilitate data sharing and governance across members states.

  4. Fairer online business environment: The Commission will address the domination of the online environment by large platforms and introduce legislation to support smaller businesses access to online and digital tools by reducing administrative burden. The intention is to facilitate the digitisation and mobility of companies.

The first six months of 2020 have been plagued with uncertainty and tragedy from a social and economic perspective.  The Commissions recovery plan for Europe paints a very different picture of the possible future.  While business models, customer demand, government priorities and social engagement are going to be different post Covid-19, is it possible that they will be changed for the better?  Perhaps the governments will use the necessity of recovery from this pandemic to implement clear priorities and policies that drive future resilience and sustainability as well as facilitate investment in a connected digital future.  Here's hoping hindsight is 2020.