Citizen engagement is the key to a digital and green future for Europe – EURACTIV.com
This week sees the official launch of the Conference on the future of Europe, and its democratic centerpiece is a digital platform bringing together ideas. There are high hopes for the platform as the EU seeks to mobilize citizen participation in shaping policies and ambitions. But what can institutions hope for by listening to people?
Citizen involvement has been a key feature of the Connected Europe partnership between Vodafone and Friends of Europe since its launch in 2020. The Connected Europe partnership brings together the views of citizens, industry and policy makers to generate recommendations and policy proposals to ensure digital transformation successful, green and resilient in Europe.
By connecting citizens, civil society, businesses and decision-makers, Connected Europe is exactly the type of partnership that the Conference on the Future of Europe seeks to foster. In fact, it could be argued that this new model of co-creation of policymaking is not only desirable but essential for something as important as the future of Europe.
Integrate citizen comments
As with the Conference on the Future of Europe, citizens are the starting point for all political discussions on connected Europe. Crucially too, they are also the end point. This is essential for the clusters of connected Europe.
Each of our three activity groups – Successful Europe, Green Europe and Resilient Europe – has Citizen Focus Groups that end with Online Debating Europe, allowing people to discuss the ideas that have developed with them. policy makers.
Take a holistic approach to the digital skills society
In our civic engagement, citizens strongly advocated the need to develop digital skills from school to the workplace and beyond – leaving no one behind. There has been a recognition, sometimes lost in the silos of policy making, that digital transformation can support the achievement of many other areas of progress.
Consider the scope of the Conference on the Future of Europe. There are 10 topics, but digitization is not only a central topic in itself, it is also an essential catalyst for many others.
For example, digitization can help mitigate climate change and enable the achievement of sustainability goals, it can help improve health, strengthen the economy and strengthen social justice. It can even strengthen the EU’s position in the world, making the EU more competitive – while supporting European democracy.
The potential is clear, but citizen feedback can also keep us grounded in reality. They reminded us that enhancing skills is an essential starting point for digital transformation. Digital skills certificates could be used to prove and assess abilities.
This in turn could improve employment opportunities. This is a fundamental approach for Vodafone Search for future jobs tool.
Understand the criticality of connectivity
The past year has taught us how essential connectivity is to life today – in terms of education, relationships and work. Participants from Connected Europe shared first-hand how they experienced the joys of being connected, but also the pain of not having connectivity.
Citizens are naturally concerned about digital exclusion. This was especially noted with the elderly and the disabled. Ensuring access for all is extremely important. Bridging the digital divide and ensuring connectivity for all requires a co-partnership with the government. Work together to provide access to urban or rural people, old or young.
Using digital technology to tackle the climate crisis
The green agenda must be intrinsically linked to digitization. We have seen the importance of digital and green in the required 20% and 37% of funding for the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Mechanism (FRR) in these respective areas.
As we have highlighted above, there is an opportunity to use digital technologies to reduce carbon emissions and use resources more efficiently.
Unsurprisingly, citizens contributing to the Connected Europe initiative have recognized the importance of the green transition. They also wanted solutions to ensure that the burden of being green also falls on consumers and businesses. Likewise, all the burdens of the digital transition should be shared equitably.
Digital innovations, such as LED street lights connected to a central management system, can significantly reduce energy consumption. IoT sensors on farms can measure soil moisture and health so that irrigation and fertilizer use is much more efficient.
None of these innovations would lose a single group. They are a real win-win – for consumers, industry and governments.
In addition, these innovations can work on a large scale to have a huge impact across the region. We estimate that the implementation of a smart cities data platform with smart energy and mobility solutions in the 80 main cities in the EU could lead to energy savings equivalent to around a third of Ireland’s total electricity consumption.
These selected examples can help achieve the goals set by European Union policy makers in the fight against climate change.
Provide clarity to inform decisions
The citizen engagement of connected Europe underlined the need for transparency to build trust, in particular with regard to the green transition. The lack of EU-wide standards and benchmarks means consumers can struggle to make informed green choices. It’s an incredibly complex area, but we need to find ways to provide clear and validated information.
One suggestion for providing clarity and incorporating digital and green benchmarks has been the expansion of the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) to encompass sustainability. The allocation and spending of recovery funds could be effectively monitored and policy reforms measured against DESI, with this simple change.
Shaping the future, together
The strong citizen feedback in the Connected Europe Partnership is a clear indicator that industry, governments and policy makers need to be accountable as they chart a sustainable path through Europe’s digital decade. The messages will only appear stronger as citizens participate in the online discussions facilitated by the Conference on the Future of Europe.