Digital divide must be addressed to support regions and cities in ongoing transitions, local leaders say
Delivering an inclusive digital transition in urban and rural areas will need increased investment in network infrastructure, updated digital resilience strategies and a better cooperation with national governments and between Members States. These were the conclusions of the debate with Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission for a Europe fit for the Digital Age, held during the 8 February plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR).
In the discussion with Margrethe Vestager, regional and local leaders stressed that the preparedness of local and regional authorities for the Digital Age is a key factor for the sustainability of public services in the era of growing dependence on digital technologies, cloud computing, data and interoperable information systems. Making sure that citizens have access to the information and the tools they need is a vital part of the development of the digital society of tomorrow.
The President of the European Committee of the Regions, Vasco Alves Cordeiro (PT/PES), said: "The digital transition is the big challenge of our time, but putting people at its centre remains crucial to avoid creating new territorial divides and social inequalities. For the Committee of the Regions, the EU Digital Agenda must be built together with cities and regions, to achieve better public services, create new jobs, and support education, and it must go hand in hand with the realisation of the Green Deal."
Executive Vice-President Vestager underlined that local and regional authorities play a key role in making digital technologies available to all citizens and that digital public services have to be improved to ensure safe and accessible tools. CoR members highlighted the need for leaders in the public and private sector to work together to support digitalisation and innovation, contributing to ongoing efforts in energy security and green technology to strengthen the EU's strategic autonomy. An inclusive digital and green transition in urban and rural areas will only be achieved if everyone has access to the necessary digital infrastructure and every region has effective and innovative digital tools.
The digital divide between urban and rural areas will continue to grow without the necessary access to the internet and to digital services in key areas such as healthcare, education, public services and social inclusion. This in turn needs stronger and more effective cooperation between and within the public administrations of the Member States.
The digital transition – improving access to and use of digital technologies and taking advantage of the significant opportunities they can bring – will have a huge impact on cohesion in the EU and is vital for the achievement of the 2030 digital decade goals. With this in mind, the CoR is seeking to add the digital dimension to the definition of economic, social and territorial cohesion recognised by the EU Treaties, in order to streamline investment in 'inclusive' digitalisation In an era of ever-increasing connectivity, many urban and rural areas still lack the advanced networks they need, while citizens often have insufficient digital skills. Bridging this digital divide needs a varied approach, with digital transformation strategies adapted to the needs of each region to ensure that no-one is left behind.
A forthcoming study from the CoR will investigate the state of play of digital resilience across local and regional authorities in the EU and examine the solutions and funds being used at the subnational level to strengthen this resilience. More information here.
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