Digital Europe

The challenge

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Europe is well positioned to grow its innovation ecosystem and must do so quickly to compete in the global digital economy. With many cities and regions already home to recognized hubs, Europe boasts an abundance of STEM talent and a proven track record on cross-border collaboration. Europe also has a long history of industrial excellence and SME activity, as well as government leadership on social issues from climate change to data privacy.

However, a Pan-European approach is needed to remain competitive on the global stage and allow European innovations to scale quickly, unobstructed by the fragmentation in language and regulation inherent to the European market. Today, Europe lags behind in R&D, with only 2.07%[1] of GDP invested compared to 2.76% in the US (and 4.22% in Korea); has only 37[2] unicorns compared to 166 in the US and China's 90; and receives only 10%[3] of global VC funding. Given its outstanding assets, the opportunity for growth is immense and potential gains from a functioning Digital Single Market are estimated at €415 billion per year.

For European innovation to flourish, collaboration is needed between founders, funders, regulators, and enablers who reflect the unique European culture and character; building on their local strengths and resources while coming together to scale and respond to global competition.


Project overview

Through a series of workshops and interactions with key players from Europe’s many local innovation ecosystems, Digital Europe seeks to develop and foster a Pan-European ecosystem by building bridges between founders, investors, and incubators as well as public figures and corporate representatives – the Digital Leaders of Europe.

The Digital Leaders share the common goal of making the Digital Single Market a practical reality. To that end, they have identified 10 principles for a Pan-European Ecosystem for Innovation and Entrepreneurship that can help the continent to change the global competition in its favour:

1.Pan-European approach to innovation

2.Corporate-startup collaboration

3.Innovation funding

4.Enabled government and public institutions

5.Data access and protection

6.Entrepreneurial talent mobility

7.Digital education, reskilling and upskilling

8.Gender diversity

9.Digital infrastructure and interoperability

10.Harmonized legislation and standards

In January 2019, the community published a report titled Innovate Europe. Competing for Global Innovation Leadership that outlined aspirations, actionable ideas and scalable practices for each of these 10 areas. It also identified four key catalysts that include leveraging Europe’s industrial assets via digital platforms and the support for key technologies; changing data dynamics by building out Europe’s leadership position in this area; boosting Europe’s talent base with digital skills and better diversity; and creating demand at scale by leveraging public sector leadership in procurement and standardisation.

The Digital Leaders community receives strategic direction from its board that specifically addresses the question of what Europe’s own way of innovation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution should look like.

Discussions are also complemented by a regular exchange with external project partners (in 2017-2018 European Commission, in 2018-2019 McKinsey & Company) as well as the World Economic Forum's European Regional Business Council, which comprises more than 30 CEOs of global businesses with operations in Europe.


Contact us

For more information about our Digital Europe work, e-mail us at

Alternatively, you can directly contact project lead Aytug Goksu at






License and Republishing

World Economic Forum projects may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.