Nordic countries have ranked highest in the 2021 DESI, Source: European Commission

EU Member States have become more digital in the past year, index shows

EU Member States have become more digital in the past year, index shows

Denmark, Finland, and Sweden have performed best in the 2021 Digital Economy and Society Index

On 12 November, the European Commission published its 2021 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). This index tracks the digital progress of EU Member States in four key areas: human capital, broadband connectivity, integration of digital technologies by businesses, and digital public services.

Taking this further, it evaluates data taken predominantly from the first half of 2020. In other words, it analyses the digital transformation of EU Member States during the first year of the COVID pandemic, providing insight into how countries have dealt with the crisis. Discussing the overall findings of the 2021 DESI, the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager shared:

“The message of this year’s index is positive, all EU countries have made some progress in getting more digital and more competitive, but more can be done. So we are working with Member States to ensure that key investments are made via the Recovery and Resilience Facility to bring the best digital opportunities to all citizens and businesses.”

Human capital

Taking a look at the first category in the index, the European Commission reveals that the digital skills of Europeans have increased. More specifically, 56% of individuals in the EU now have at least a basic level of digital skills. What is more, there has been an increase in the number of ICT specialists, with the DESI 2021 reporting 8.4 million professionals as opposed to last year’s 7.8 million.

Although this is good news, it is important to highlight that there is a substantial gender gap in specialist digital skills. In particular, only 19% of ICT specialists and a third of the science, tech, engineering, and mathematics graduates are women.

Beyond this, more must be done to achieve the EU’s ambitious 2030 targets; that is, 80% of the population must have basic digital skills and there must be 20 million ICT specialists.


According to the DESI 2021 report, EU Member States have increased their broadband connectivity efforts as 59% of households now have ‘very high-capacity networks’ (VHCN). This is an increase of 9% since the previous index report.

In addition to this, 25 countries in the EU have set up a 5G spectrum, as opposed to the previous 16.

Integration of digital technologies

During the first year of the COVID pandemic, businesses substantially increased their use of digital technologies as the index found a large rise in the use of cloud tech (from 18% in 2018 to 26% in 2020). Despite this, significantly more large companies than SMEs have adopted digital technologies.

In this respect, more would need to be done to have 90% of SMEs integrating digital technologies by 2030. Currently, only 60% of SMEs do.

Digital public services

Unfortunately, there has not been a major improvement in the digital public services category over the past year. While EU Member States did improve or create digital platforms as a result of the pandemic, the efforts have been insufficient.

Nevertheless, the European Commission expects to see a rise in digital public services over the coming years due to endowments from the Recovery and Resilience Facility.  

How did countries rank?

Although there has been an overall growth in digital development over the past year, the gap between the highest-ranking EU member states and those with the lowest scores is still large.

Nordic countries have performed best in the 2021 DESI, with Denmark, Finland, and Sweden ranking highest. Countries in Eastern Europe, on the other hand, have scored lowest as Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece rank at the bottom.

The best-performing countries in the 2021 DESI are:

  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Sweden
  4. Netherlands
  5. Ireland
  6. Malta
  7. Estonia
  8. Austria
  9. Germany
  10. Belgium



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