Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Union (EU) countries governments and businesses have adapted to new modes of working and taken various mitigating measures over the following months. At the same time, EU citizens started using more digital solutions, such as video conferencing tools, whether for work or personal reasons.
To tackle the devastating effects of the crisis, the European Commission proposed a new and innovative approach to support the Union and the Member States' recoveries: the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), amounting to EUR 672.5 billion in loans and grants.
The RRF is the centerpiece of NextGenerationEU, the biggest stimulus package ever financed through the EU budget totaling EUR 750 billion. To encourage Europe’s digital recovery, the European Commission proposed to the Member States to use at least 20% of the RRF funds for digital matters. This decision was endorsed by both the Council of the European Union and European Parliament.
The Permanent Representation of Romania to the European Union and UiPath organized a webinar in November to create a forum for discussion on the road ahead for robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) in the context of the envisioned plans for the EU’s economic recovery.
During the opening remarks, H.E. Ambassador Luminița Odobescu (Permanent Representative, Permanent Representation of Romania to the European Union) laid out three keywords that defined the European future before the COVID-19 pandemic: green, digital, and resilient. All of which are now more relevant than ever.
These keywords became the pillars for the recovery efforts launched to mitigate the economic consequences of COVID-19. The RRF proposed by the European Commission is the instrument that aims to support long-term reforms and investments in the Member States, notably in the green and digital transition priorities, to enable and boost the productivity and resilience of the EU's economy. For more details, listen to the full recording of the "European Economic Recovery with Software Automation" webinar.
The situation in Europe
During the event, H.E. Ambassador Odobescu has also presented how the Romanian National Agency for Payments and Social Inspection (ANPIS) dealt with an impressive number of claims for technical unemployment benefits in the context of the current crisis. The agency used RPA to streamline processes and verify the accuracy of applications submitted. With RPA, the handling time of each application was reduced from an average of 15 minutes to under one minute. Similar RPA use cases can be seen at the European Medicines Agency and the Mater Hospital in Ireland.
EU priorities on a digitally-driven economic recovery
During the webinar, Mr. Khalil Rouhana (Deputy Director-General of DG Connect, European Commission) pointed out that digital transformation was one of the two key policy priorities for the EU, even before the pandemic. In his opinion, digital transformation is an opportunity for the EU to modernize its economy and bring in digital solutions to address critical societal challenges. It’s also an opportunity to shape tomorrow's world to fit the EU's values, democratic processes, and economic interests.
Moreover, Rouhana explained that significant effort is needed for automating back-office tasks to improve the efficiency and service delivery of public sector organizations. Such investments could focus on data, AI, or other digital technologies, making the EU public sector lead the way in adopting the latest digital technologies. Furthermore, the European Commission published examples to help guide Member States in designing their reforms and investments components, including the public sector component known as A public administration fit for the future.
Dragoș Pîslaru (MEP, Renew Europe Group), the co-rapporteur for the RRF file, added that the 20% threshold is a minimum and encouraged Member States to go beyond the 20% threshold to better reflect the digital transformation priority. For example, according to H.E. Ambassador Pedro Lourtie (Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Representation of Portugal to the European Union), Portugal will allocate 31% of the funds under the national recovery and resilience plan to support the following priorities:
- Digital education
- Digital enterprises
- Digital public administration
Role of the Member States in the RRF
In April 2021, Member States will have to submit their national recovery and resilience plan (NRRP) to the European Commission for review and proposal for approval by the Council. Although the European Commission has set out high-level principles and common guidelines, countries have room to tailor their NRRPs per their own needs and priorities. Each country uses a different approach, as some governments collect input from their regions, while others have a special task force dealing with this matter. Nevertheless, we can observe that the national priorities are fairly similar, showing particular attention to infrastructure, climate, digital transition, and education. The main challenge for driving the EU-wide digital transition remains the Member States’ varying digitalization levels (see the Digital Economy and Society Index). While some EU countries are very advanced, others are struggling with their digital journey.
How can RPA help the public sector in the EU?
With RPA, Member States can drive their modernization agenda, reduce bureaucracy, increase productivity, and make public services faster and more efficient. The European Parliament resolution of February 12, 2019 on a comprehensive European industrial policy on artificial intelligence and robotics specifically acknowledged the impact of RPA on improving public sector processes and its interoperability with legacy systems. More details on this topic are available in my previous blog.
The RRF presents us with a unique occasion to steer a profound digital transformation of our economy and society. However, a sound and inclusive digital transition cannot be achieved without a strategy for skills and investing in digital literacy.
RPA offers significant opportunities for upskilling, reskilling, and lifelong learning. UiPath develops programs to help workers, students, and organizations build automation skills. UiPath Academy, a free and open training platform for RPA, contains a repository of self-paced, role-based courses that anyone can access. If you are part of a nonprofit training organization or higher education institution and interested in teaching RPA, please visit the UiPath Academic Alliance program. The Academic Alliance program offers free software, curricula, and more.
For more information on how the adoption of RPA can foster socio-economic development within the EU documented with real case studies from organizations and experts, claim your copy of our white paper How RPA Will Revolutionize Work, Skills, and Society across the European Union.
Public Affairs Manager, UiPath