Dr. Heidi Cigan

European Commission, DG Communications Networks, Content, Technology

Unit A4 Digital Transformation of Industrial Ecosystems

The EU-wide Network of European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIH)

To recover from the economic and social effects of the COVID-19 crisis and to meet our sustainable development goals, Europe must undergo a green and digital transformation, the so-called “twin transition”. Today, nearly 40% of businesses in the EU do not even have a basic level of digitalisation and adoption of advanced digital technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, is also only around 25%, though it is growing. 

Businesses in rural and agricultural areas are some of these least digitalised, but the ones which have most to gain from digitalisation. Indeed, digital technologies have the potential to revolutionise agriculture by helping farmers to work more precisely, efficiently and sustainably. 

To support this transition, as part of its Digital Compass, the Commission has set a number of goals to be achieved by 2030. For businesses, they include reaching at least 90% of SMEs with at least a basic level of digital intensity and 75% of businesses adopting advanced digital technologies. Furthermore, the new Digital Europe Programme (DIGITAL) will provide EUR 7.5 bn to support the adoption of advanced digital technologies in Europe and at least 20% of the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), around EUR 136 bn, has been earmarked for digital investments.  

Under the Horizon2020 programme, the Commission has been supporting the development of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) in Europe, including those specialised in the area of agro-food such as the SmartAgriHubs project. DIHs are an important tool to support the digitalisation of companies, especially SMEs, providing technical expertise, opportunities to “test before invest”, financing advice, training and more. These services are crucial to SMEs and businesses in rural areas. 

Under the Horizon2020 programme, the Commission has been supporting the development of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) in Europe, including those specialised in the area of agro-food such as the SmartAgriHubs project.

Going forward the Commission will strengthen this support, by providing EUR 750 m, to be matched by an equal amount of funding by Member States, for the setup of an EU-wide network of “European Digital Innovation Hubs” (EDIH) covering all regions and addressing all sectors and technologies. The goal is to build a network of at least 240 (one per region), so that there is a hub in working distance from all SMEs in Europe. Hubs will be specialised and should take into account the needs of the region, however, SMEs needing other expertise will be able to access them through the network. Funding from DIGITAL will enable a network of around 200 hubs. Hubs that are good enough but are not selected due to lack of funds will receive a “seal of excellence” and can join the network funded from RRF or other national and EU funding sources.

In order to select the initial network of hubs, Member States have designated hubs through a national selection procedure. Candidate hubs will be able to apply to a restricted EU call planned to take place in the second half of 2021. The pool of candidate hubs shows a good coverage of regions, sectors and technologies. More than 60 have a focus on agriculture, and some of them are part of the SmartAgriHubs project as well. It is expected that the first hubs in the network will be up and running by the first quarter of 2022.

The EDIH network represents a major opportunity to boost the digitalisation of businesses in the EU and to support the green and digital transitions. The knowledge and experience built up through the SmartAgriHubs project will help the network to effectively support farmers and agro-food companies.

We hope you will get inspired by the Digital Innovation Hubs presented in this publication! Enjoy!