Challenges for the European Information Society beyond 2005
Information and communications technologies (ICT) * allow for faster technical progress, modernisation and structural changes to be made to the economy. Given that ICT greatly improve competitiveness, the European Union (EU) should make use of all the possibilities offered by them to contribute to achieving the Lisbon goals *. ICT are central to this process. Through this communication, the Commission aims to launch a broad political debate on the EU Information Society strategy beyond 2005.
Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, 19 November 2004: "Challenges for European Information Society beyond 2005" [COM(2004) 757 final - Not yet published in the Official Journal].
This communication recommends more widespread use of ICT. Their wide dissemination will depend on the ability of the EU to find solutions to the many problems raised by their use and to make their advantages more obvious. It must be ensured that as many people as possible benefit from their use. The eEurope initiative launched by the European Commission in June 2000 has proved very positive.
The contribution of ICT to the Lisbon Goals
The EU is still far from exploiting all the possibilities offered by ICT for achieving the Lisbon objectives. Greater use of these new technologies would have a positive impact on European productivity and competitiveness, as well as on society as a whole. This sector is one of the most innovative and productive, representing about 8% of the EU's GDP and accounting for 6% of jobs in 2000. 40% of productivity growth between 1995 and 2000 was due to ICT. ICT also boost citizenship and improve the quality of life by allowing more and better services to be provided to larger numbers of people.
Information Society policies
Given the huge potential for growth in this sector, it is necessary to implement ICT-specific policies and adapt current policies to new developments. The different Information Society initiatives in the EU should be linked together by abolishing sectoral boundaries and ensuring an even take-up of ICT in society.
At the global level, the market is rapidly expanding, especially in China, India and Brazil. The EU must follow the developments in these countries closely. Close international co-operation is needed to deal with threats to network safety and to prevent cyber crime.
Even if the EU and the Member States already support the research efforts of European companies, research and development (R&D) needs in this field are still very great. Similarly, there is an increasing need for research on the socio-economic impact of applying ICT in the various sectors.
Issues for an Information Society policy beyond 2005
The changes which have had to be made for ICT to be used are not just about technology. New social and economic structures and new forms of governance are appearing, leading to new ways of communication and interaction between individuals, businesses and the public authorities. The Commission has identified a number of issues that it considers important, in particular:
- Content and services: the EU must support content providers and foster the emergence of innovative services. The variety of obstacles slowing down the development of new services and content must be eradicated so that users and businesses can benefit from them;
- eInclusion and citizenship: citizenship is about the participation of all in society. The policies of "eInclusion" * aim at ensuring equal access to and the availability of ICT services for all at an affordable cost. New and complex technologies marginalise those who are not equipped to use them. In order to avoid the creation of new divides, it is important to ensure digital literacy for everyone and that technologies are easy to use;
- Public services: the use of ICT in this area will increase democracy and transparency. Their use also ensures that services are more efficient and of a better quality;
- Skills and work: the ICT component must be strengthened during all learning and training processes to obtain the full benefit for users in this field. Europe must apply ICT in the workplace in ways that raise efficiency and provide better jobs;
- ICT as a key industrial sector: by covering information technology, electronic communications and audio-visual markets, ICT represent a major sector of the economy. In order to make Europe a more attractive place for foreign investors, it is important to create a competitive environment that is as clear and simple as possible;
- Interoperability*: Interoperability should be guaranteed at all levels - for network operators, for content or service providers and consumers - as well as between services, legal provisions and administrative practises which are different in every country;
- Trust and dependability: it is essential that these resources are both safe and reliable. Consumers want their privacy to be guaranteed and to see action taken to prevent illegal commercial practises and all unsolicited communications. The infrastructures of modern life rely heavily on ICT and are interdependent, so failures may have far-reaching consequences;
- Exploitation of ICT by business: given that the use of ICT by companies is recognised as being one of the success factors for European competitiveness, these companies should use them efficiently, especially SMEs.
The EU will face a number of challenges in the field of ICT in the next few years. This area, which is already important, is crucial for growth and improving productivity as well as for strengthening citizenship and quality of life. The effective adoption of new business processes and economic models to exploit the potential of ICT remains a challenge. The Commission considers it necessary to intensify research and investments in these production-generating technologies. Through this communication, the Commission is launching a process of reflection on this subject and broad consultation among stakeholders.
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