Is Spain shaping Europe’s digital future?

Published on October 07, 2021

Spain, one of the Eurozone’s most vulnerable economies, is one of the most digitally advanced countries in Europe and may soon see one of its cities become the continent’s most connected urban centre. The rise of Spain’s Digital Economy can be traced back to the Spanish government’s decision to put digital technology at the centre of its economy and society in 2013. While it may not have been an easy start, it has managed to set lofty targets that have been achieved and exceeded thanks to a robust public-private partnership model. 

Digital Spain is becoming a reality as the Spanish government embraces e-government to streamline public services, reduce costs and make them more accessible to its citizens. These efforts lead other European countries to adopt Spain’s digital innovations, setting the country on the road to becoming one of Europe’s top digital innovators. It offers an excellent example of how to take full advantage of the power of digital technology to transform society and boost the economy. 

The Spanish Digital Policies

In the early 2010s, when digital benchmarks began being measured, Spain was below the average in almost everything compared to other countries. For that reason, it started working on a national strategy. Given its scope and forecasted impact, all stakeholders participated through different participatory instruments in sharing their perspectives and priorities. That’s how they came up with Spain’s current digital agenda, which dates back to 2013. 

It had six objectives that needed to be achieved by 2020:

  1. ultra-high broadband networks
  2. development of digital economy for businesses
  3. improvement of e-government
  4. reinforcement of citizens’ digital trust
  5. enhancement of innovation in ICT sector
  6. improvement of the digital literacy and skills of its citizens and workforce

Today, the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation has three state secretaries responsible for digital matters: digitisation and artificial intelligence (AI), telecommunications and digital infrastructure, and economy and Business Support. As other European countries have struggled to modernise their ageing digital infrastructure, Spain has had no problem putting government data online. And it has done it at a much lower cost than anywhere else. 

Earlier this year, the President of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, presented three new plans for the development of the Spain 2025 Digital Agenda, with an investment of more than 11,000 million euros for the next three years. These new plans are the Digitalization Plan for SMEs 2021-2025, the National Plan for Digital Competences and the Digitalization Plan for Public Administrations. They were added to the other three plans presented last December: the Connectivity Plan, the Strategy to Promote 5G and the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence.

Digital Spain’s success and challenges forward

Spain’s digital government efforts are paying off. The country ranks at or near the top of rankings for internet access, e-government services and use of social media to interact with citizens. According to the 2020 DESI index, the country ranks 11th of 28 EU Member States based on data before the pandemic. Moreover, Spain ranks 2nd in the EU on digital public services thanks to its well-timed implementation of a digital-by-default strategy throughout its central public administration. The EDGI index shows that the country has not had any apparent changes in its position for six consecutive years, ranking 17th out of the 193 countries in 2020, making Spain the leader of e-government in southern Europe. 

The powerful public-private partnership model is an integral part of the country’s success. This partnership, referred to as Participatory Democracy, makes government accessible to everyone via social media, crowdsourcing ideas and opinions on policy issues. It also relies heavily on civil society advocates who can help inform lawmakers about specific issues that are being discussed in small groups across the country. The result? A digitally active citizenry that is very involved in their democracy. 

Yet Spain faces two hurdles on its path to digital success: first, many Spaniards aren’t online yet; second, traditional industries, which include large numbers of small businesses that find running an online business expensive and complex, are proving challenging to digitise. Spain is below the EU average on the human capital indicators. The report states that despite improving its scores, almost half of the Spanish population still lack basic digital skills, and 8% have never used the internet. The government should focus on laying the necessary foundations, and building up the required digital skills within society, companies, and universities. 



About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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FRIDAY, 30 JUNE 2022