By Eva Maydell, Member of the European Parliament |

Eva Maydell, Member of the European Parliament

Eva Maydell, Member of the European Parliament, about what it needs to catch up to the US and Asia in terms of digital business, the best places for digital investments in Europe and Bulgaria’s high potential in this regard:

Europe is still lagging behind the US and Asia in developing its digital business environment. Currently the number of European digital champions and innovation companies stands much below EU’s full potential. To change that the EU’s policy makers in Brussels and the national capitals need to support the necessary digital infrastructure, but also to create an enabling regulatory environment for the digital economy. In practice, that would require completing the Digital Single Market, updating the educational systems to the needs of the digital realm and supporting research and innovation for and from the IT sector.

These are all necessary measures that will bring results in the medium-to-long run, but there are steps that can help Europe pick the low-hanging fruit in the sector already today. One such possibility is to identify the best places for digital investments in Europe, usually regions that are already a step ahead in terms of competition in the IT sector, and to encourage their further development, creating exciting prospects for the business.

Bulgaria is one such example of a dynamic European destination with serious ambitions for developing its digital sector and tradition of innovation that stretches back decades. Today Bulgaria occupies the first place in the EU in terms of proportion of women among ICT specialists (27.7%); and is first in the EU in terms of proportion of female ICT students (34.4%). This data not only shows a gender balanced digital talent but also is indicative of the importance which society attributes to the tech industry.

Indeed, Bulgaria has become an attractive and lively centre of technology due to several factors conducive to a favourable digital entrepreneurial environment. Businesses in the country are able to count on a highly skilled workforce especially in IT, competitive prices for services and labour as well as long traditions and good infrastructure in telecommunications. As a result, one can find a very well developed eco-system for innovative businesses and start-ups in Sofia today. Looking at the profile of those first movers, one can see a combination of already established leaders on the international IT market and innovative local companies that are mushrooming and growing rapidly.

This favourable mixture of advantages promises economic gains and growth for the country but also for the companies who have decided to work and invest in Bulgaria. The profit growth in the sector in recent years amounts to 250% and statistics show that as many as 2.6% of the Bulgarians are employed in the IT sector. The industry is among the fastest growing in the country and by 2016 it had surpassed 2% of the GDP threshold.

With still a long way to go in order to catch up with EU’s advanced economies, Bulgaria is hoping that it is exactly digitalization and entrepreneurship that will help it bridge this gap. If the current ambition is maintained, it can offer significant added value, good income for its workforce and a wealth of learning and development opportunities for young people with digital skills. In turn, the high demand for a digitally savvy workforce which we feel today is pushing educators at schools and also various private initiatives in Bulgaria to develop specialised programs for basic and advanced computer skills. This is a very important step, which will provide us with the necessary talent to turn this digital euphoria into a permanent engine for our economy.