Following the path of digitalization in Slovenia and Europe: Measuring the progress of EU countries in the field of digitisation

Digitisation is one of those areas for which many strategies have been written and many goals set. The goals are more ambitious with each strategy, and the bar is set higher. Since 2014, the European Commission has been monitoring Member States’ digital progress with the help of a unique index, known by its acronym, DESI.

What is DESI?

DESI is the Digital Economy and Society Index, which in the past included analysis for five main areas, Connectivity, Human capital, Use of the internet, Integration of digital technology, and Digital public services.

In 2021, the European Commission has adjusted DESI to reflect two major policy initiatives set to have an impact on the digital transformation in the European Union in the coming years – the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), in which the EU Member States have committed to invest at least 20% of their national funds from the Recovery and Resilience Plan for the Digital Agenda, and the Digital Decade Compass.

The new DESI measures human capital (knowledge and skills), broadband connectivity, the integration of digital technologies by companies, and the digitalisation of public services.

What does DESI tell us about Slovenia?

According to the index, Slovenia ranks 13th among the 27 EU Member States in 2021. The country performs well in the field of connectivity. Next-generation broadband access covers 88% of households, close to the EU average. Still, it is worth noting that this percentage is significantly lower in rural areas. 66% of households in Slovenia have access to Very High-Capacity Network (VHCN).

The country remains just below the EU average in terms of human capital. 55% of people aged 16 – 74 years have at least basic digital skills. ICT specialists comprise 4.4% of the workforce, while only 17% of all ICT specialists are women.

Slovenia ranks eighth among EU countries regarding the integration of digital technology in businesses. In digital public services, the country is successful in the open data indicator, advancing to the tenth position in the EU. Slovenian internet users actively engage with e-government services (77%) compared to the EU average of 64%. 

DESI 2021. Source: European Commission.
DESI 2021. Source: European Commission.

According to DESI, what is the current situation in the individual EU Member States?

The 2021 Digital Economy and Society Index has shown that the transition to digital technology has generally progressed. Still, new efforts are needed at the EU level. Although all EU Member States have made progress with digitisation, the overall picture is quite diverse within the various Member States. The gap between the leading EU countries and those with the lowest results in the DESI index is huge.

As far as digital skills are concerned, 56% of individuals across the European Union have at least basic digital skills. The data also shows a slight increase in the number of ICT specialists employed: in 2020, there were 8.4 million ICT specialists in the EU, compared with 7.8 million the year before, with only 19% of ICT specialists being women.

In 2020, 55% of companies reported having difficulties recruiting ICT specialists. However, the shortage of adequately educated and skilled labour also affects businesses’ digital technology integration, making the task take longer.

In 2020, 59% of EU households had access to Very High-Capacity Network (VHCN). 5G networks have become commercially available in 13 Member States, mainly in urban areas.

Regarding the digitalisation of public services, several Member States set up or strengthened digital platforms to provide more services online in the first year of the pandemic.

Denmark ranked first among the EU Member States according to the DESI index. Denmark leads in Connectivity (94% of households are connected to very-high-capacity networks (VHCNs) and 70.1% to fibre, 5G mobile-broadband covers 80% of populated areas). It ranks 2nd in the Integration of digital technology in businesses. It also ranks second in terms of Digital public services (92% of Internet users use e-government services).

Although Danes have strong digital skills compared to other Europeans (they rank 4th), 30% of adults and 25% of the labour force still lack basic digital skills. The share of information and communications technology (ICT) specialists in the workforce and the share of ICT graduates are higher than the EU average. However, companies still report a shortage of available experts in this field.

According to the DESI index, Romania landed last among the EU Member States. Broadband is available to 52% of households. Romania is also stuck at this share due to regulatory barriers from their permit-granting procedure. Digitisation of public services is also at the lowest level in the EU.

Although there was a slight increase in the percentage of ICT specialists in Romania, they still represent a much lower proportion of the workforce than in the EU as a whole (2.4% against an EU average of 4.3%). In addition, only 31% of the population have at least basic digital skills (the EU average is 56%).

Digital Compass. Source: European Commission.
Digital Compass. Source: European Commission.

What are the EU level goals put down by the Digital Compass: The European Way for the Digital Decade?

The digital compass for the EU’s digital decade is based on four cardinal directions, with each direction setting the goals that the European Union wants to achieve by 2030.         

The first cardinal direction, skills, is to achieve 20 million ICT specialists and have at least 80% of the population acquire basic digital skills.

The second direction covers secure and sustainable digital infrastructures – this includes sufficient data transmission for everyone (Gigabit networks), 5G for everyone, cutting edge semiconductors with the EU aiming to at least double its share of global production to reduce dependence (especially on China), using Edge and Cloud computing to make data accessible from anywhere, and creating the first computer with quantum acceleration.

The third direction is the digital transformation of businesses, which involves the new uptake of technology (75% of EU companies using the cloud, artificial intelligence, and big data) and having more than 90% of SMEs reach at least a basic level of digital intensity.

The fourth point of the compass covers the digitisation of public services, namely that vital public services should be 100% accessible online, that all citizens should have access to health records through e-Health systems, and that 80% of citizens should use a digital identity card.

The issue of access for the elderly is not sufficiently addressed

When we compare the set goals with the achievements of the lowest and highest ranked EU Member States according to the DESI index, we can see that there is still a long way to go. Nor can we ignore that neither connectivity nor the digitisation of public services will help people who do not even have basic digital skills.

Nor can we ignore that only people up to and including 74 years of age are taken into account when calculating the human resources index. Given that only 33% of people aged 55-74 and only 28% of retirees and inactive people have basic digital skills at the EU level, we cannot help but wonder: what about those over 74 years of age? And the question that follows is: is this truly digitalisation? Is this the EU that leaves no one behind?

The European Union of Seniors (ESU) also noted that “The principle of ‘everyone’ needing access to digital technology is recognised in recent EU Council conclusions, but often concrete actions for older persons and vulnerable groups are lacking”. In the resolution, Towards an active and competent participation of all in resilient digital societies, they also warned that if older persons are not provided with technology access and the necessary training, they will be shut off from society, worsening an already worrying trend of isolation and loneliness among many older citizens.

Aware of this issue, and with deep respect for the work the ESU does, we will address this issue in more detail in future articles.

Keywords: digitisation, DESI, elderly, Digital Compass, EU


This article is part of joint project of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and the Anton Korošec Institute (INAK) Following the path of digitalization in Slovenia and Europe. This project receives funding from the European Parliament. 

The information and views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union institutions/Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies/ Anton Korošec Institute. Organizations mentioned above assume no responsibility for facts or opinions expressed in this article or any subsequent use of the information contained therein.