24 July 2023

Digital solutions that put people first will open up new opportunities for businesses, encourage the development of trustworthy technology, foster an open and democratic society, enable a vibrant and sustainable economy, and achieve the Digital Transformation. Funded by NEXT Generation EU, it has the ambition to transform the EU-member states into a digital, modern, and competitive economies. The aim is to introduce innovations that enhance citizens’ welfare and support economic resilience.  

What is NEXT Generation EU?   

Next Generation EU (NGEU) is a temporary recovery instrument to help repair the immediate economic and social damage brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. The Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) is the centerpiece of NGEU with loans and grants available to support reforms and investments undertaken by EU countries.   

To access NGEU funds, each Member State is required to develop a National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP), setting out a coherent package of reforms and investment for the period 2021-26.  

Ambitions for the Digital Transformation  

The Recovery and Resilience Fund is included in the NextGenerationEU framework. The aim of the 672.5 billion euro fund is to support public investments, especially in digitalization and in the quest for a greener Europe, while making national economies more resilient and better prepared for the future.   

The NGEU Recovery Program is centered around three pillars that must be considered in every Member States’ National Plan and follow a minimum percentage of total funding to be allocated.  

The Belgian National RRP will be supported by 4.5 billion euro in grants. 27% of the plan will support digital objectives.  

The key digital measures of the Belgian National RRP  

The challenges the Belgian federal governments deals with for the digital transformation include:    

  • Addressing a lack of digital skills  
  • Strengthening fibre and 5G readiness   
  • The digital transformation of public services  

Based on the challenges, the government developed its key digital measures:  

The plan supports the digital transition with investments in the digitalisation of the public administration, in skills and digital inclusion, in cyber security and in connectivity.   

It will invest 480 million euro in education, for a more inclusive and future-proof education system across communities with digital and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills of pupils and students and access to digital tools and technology.   

Furthermore, the plan will invest 585 million euro in the digital transformation of the public administration, justice system and health care system to improve access for citizens and businesses, and a set of reforms that will contribute to the deployment of 5G and the deployment of ultra-fast connectivity infrastructure, such as fibre.  

How do regions organize their projects based on the National Digital Transformation?   

The Digital Transformation of Belgium is divided by three main components, which serves as inspiration for the regional RRP’s and its digital projects.   

1.- Cyber resilience and cyber security  

The main aim is, based on the structuring investment and reform projects, to combat cyber threats through projects that strengthen the country’s resilience and strengthen its ability to deal with new cybercrime phenomena.   

This happens by investing in:  

  • Cyber-secure and resilient digital society   
  • 5G   
  • Interception and security by NTSU/CTIF   

2.- Public administration  

This component is based on investment projects and structural reforms, affecting both the business environment and justice. It aims to use digital technologies to make the actions of public administration more efficient, both in its internal processes and in its interaction with citizens and businesses:  

  • Simplification of administrative procedures (on a business and governance level)  
  • E-government: Procurement procedure   

3.- Optical-fibre technology, 5G technology and new technology  

The ambition is to improve the connectivity of the national territory by continuing the development of high speed fibre optic networks, but also developing 5G corridors that enable universal and affordable access to connectivity in all urban and rural areas. The aim is also to benefit from the development of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), by ensuring that these technologies have a positive societal impact.  

  • Introducing 5G    
  • Investing in digital technologies  
  • Coverage of white zones through the development of superfast fibre networks  
  • Development of an AI institute to tackle societal challenges with this technology  
  • Improving the internal (via wifi) and external (via fibre optic) connectivity of schools and business parks  

Digital technologies and transformations as a component are implemented as a federal competence in Belgium. This means that the federal government elaborates on the introduction of it and the viability of the corresponding projects.  

Assessing the state of Digital Belgium in 2023 

According to the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) report of 2022, which tracks the digital progress of EU member states, Belgium ranks 16th out of 27 countries. While the country falls below the EU average in terms of digitalization growth considering its starting point, Belgium stands out in terms of integrating digital technologies into businesses, placing it 6th in the EU

Moreover, the use of e-government services has significantly increased, with Belgium surpassing the EU average by 9 percentage points (74% compared to 65%)

However, Belgium still lags behind the EU average in terms of connectivity, particularly in the deployment of fiber optic networks, with a difference of 40%

To address these existing shortcomings, all levels of government in Belgium have introduced various digital strategies and plans: 

At the federal level, the government launched a new digital strategy called #SmartNation in 2021, aligning with the five axes of DESI indicators. The Flemish region has developed a regional recovery plan, Vlaanderen Radicaal Digitaal II, with digital transformation being one of the seven key focus areas. The Wallonia-Brussels Federation has included a chapter on digitization in its general strategy for 2020-2025. Wallonia has also formulated a digital strategy titled “Digital Wallonia” for the period 2019-2024. Within Belgium’s recovery and resilience plan, the digital component mainly focuses on skills development and e-government. Significant results are expected in the next twelve months in the rollout of 5G, digitalization of the judicial system, and equipping schools with IT infrastructure and equipment. 

The European Commission has developed a “digital compass” that translates the EU’s digital ambitions into concrete objectives to be achieved in the next decade. This compass consists of four main points: 

  • Digital skills for citizens and highly qualified professionals 
  • Secure and sustainable digital infrastructure 
  • Digital transformation of businesses 
  • Digitization of government services

These focus areas are crucial, not only for the digital transition but also for the transition towards a climate-neutral, circular, and resilient economy that guarantees equal access to the benefits of the digital world for all citizens and businesses

Based on the digital compass, the key objectives for 2030 have been established. These ambitions include ensuring that at least: 

  • 80% of the population possesses basic digital skills 
  • 75% of businesses utilize cloud services, artificial intelligence, and big data 
  • 80% of citizens can use a digital identity card 
  • More than 90% of SMEs achieve a basic level of digital intensity 

To effectively address these challenges, the European Commission facilitates the rapid initiation of cross-border projects through the European Recovery and Resilience Facility, the Cohesion Fund, and other EU funding instruments. Moreover, member states have committed to allocating at least 20% of resources for their recovery and resilience plans to the digital transition

FI Group has 20 years of experience and wants to accompany you on the new NextGenerationEU path. Our experts are at your disposal to analyse how your project fits into the NextGenerationEU European recovery fund and to take the next steps together with you. 

Yvette Poumpalova

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