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Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, State of the EU address 2021. Source: EC - Audiovisual service.

In the 2021 State of the European Union speech, the President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen underlined that equipping Europeans with digital skills is a top priority.

‘Digital is the make-or-break issue’

In her speech, President Von der Leyen stressed the importance of investing in digital skills as a key to the EU’s short-term recovery and long-term prosperity. In the coming year, the EU plans include an ‘unprecedented’ level of investment in digital technologies and infrastructure such as 5G and fibre technologies. But an equal investment is necessary to upskill the digital competences of Europeans. Improving digital skills holds the key to shaping the digital transformation in Europe in a way so it reflects the core and shared European values. 

The need to invest in digital skills is not just a European Commission’s idea: it is an ambition shared by EU Member States and reflected in National Recovery and Resilience Plans. Notably, digital spending in NextGenerationEU will likely surpass the original 20% target. This brings the EU one step closer to reaching the targets of the European Digital Decade: to equip 80% of European citizens with at least basic digital skills – and to reach  20 million specialists employed in the ICT sector by 2030. New flagship initiatives will support EU-wide efforts in this area and link world-class research, design and testing capacities, such as the European Chips Act – an initiative that will pave the way for a state-of-the-art EU ecosystem and strengthen the Union’s technological sovereignty. 

Digital skills for the younger generation: a shared vision of Europe that works for all

State of the EU: Ursula Von der Leyen 2021 address. Source: EC - Audiovisual service

One key element of the President’s address focused on young people and their ability to make the most of the benefits enshrined in the European Pillar of Social Rights. In her speech, Von der Leyen acknowledged the need to support those who have fallen in between all the gaps and are currently not in education, employment, or training. The new ALMA programme will help young Europeans find temporary work experience in another EU Member State – ‘to gain skills, to create bonds with one another, and help forge their own shared European identity and vision‘. 

The European Commission will dedicate 2022 to young people, making it the ‘Year of European Youth’ – a year to upskill and empower the young generation – and make sure they have all the tools they need to build their future in Europe. 

The Digital Skills and Jobs Platform is a great starting place for students, who want to improve or refresh their digital skills – from training and upskilling opportunities, to digital skills resources and career guidance

Cybersecurity experts needed

Another aspect mentioned as critical to the future of the EU is cybersecurity and cyber defence. It is crucial when it comes to defending personal data, processes, intellectual property and increasingly, for work and personal lives. 

In the Commission President’s own words,

"We should not just be satisfied to address the cyber threat, but also strive to become a leader in cyber security. It should be here in Europe where cyber defence tools are developed".

Flagship initiatives on EU level, such as a European Cyber Defence Policy and a new EU Cyber Resilience Act will pool resources and offer the necessary framework the European Union needs. 

More cybersecurity experts will be needed to reach the objectives. The Digital Skills and Jobs Platform already offers a variety of training opportunities, good practices, guidance and much more cybersecurity-related content.

This October is also the European Cyber Security Month – an annual campaign, organised by jointly by the European Commission and ENISA, which raises awareness on cybersecurity practices, challenges, and solutions in all EU Member States. The campaign also offers resources, training and tips for anyone on how to secure our smartphones, computers and other digital devices.

News details

Digital technology / specialisation
Geographic scope - Country
Geographical sphere
EU institutional initiative