Brussels, 6 October 2010
Commissioner Kroes asks CoR to be a partner in the Digital Agenda Governance
From affordable broadband access in rural areas to reliable and secure online services for citizens, the EU's 'Digital Agenda' touches on key competences of regional and local authorities. Today the vice-president of the European Commission Neelie Kroes, responsible for the digital agenda, has called upon regions and cities to become partners in the implementation of Europe's digital agenda and invited the CoR to get involved in the European Commission's experts groups and the annual Digital Assembly . The Commissioner was addressing the members of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) who adopted an opinion on the "Digital Agenda for Europe" drafted by Markku Markkula (FI/EPP), Member of Espoo City Council.
The aim of the Digital Agenda championed by Neelie Kroes is to maximise the economic and social benefits of information technology. "This can only be done in cooperation with local and regional authorities and I would be delighted about the Committee of the Regions being part of the European Digital Agenda Governance Cycle. The door is open. We have to communicate with citizens and close cooperation with regions and local authorities is an absolute must," the Commissioner said ahead of the CoR's plenary session.
The Committee's opinion on the "Digital Agenda for Europe" advocates the swift implementation of the Digital Single Market and a new kind of transparency with regard to the development of services. CoR rapporteur Markku Markkula said that whilst the free movement of persons and goods in the EU had been secured, there were still many obstacles to the movement of human capital. He went on to stress that IT interoperability, electronic invoicing and digital identification called for rapid solutions covering administration in the EU's 27 Member States. CoR members stressed in particular that, so far, online government services have consisted too much of simply transferring paper-based bureaucracy online.
In the opinion, the Committee also recalls that local and regional authorities are close to practice on the ground and that they have a major role to play in, for example, helping to ensure equal broadband access. The role of the public sector is particularly important in very sparsely populated areas where there is no functioning market. Fast communication links, complemented by efficient wireless mobile services, are key in promoting regional competitiveness, accessibility and equality between people.
The implementation of Europe's Digital agenda will cost money, and regions and local authorities ask national governments to increase financial means in this policy field and that Europe should use its structural funds as the main tool to finance the agenda. For Commissioner Kroes money has to go with political will. "I know that it is not coffee money we are talking about. But we do not need to spend all of it tomorrow. What we need is a strategy to spread out our efforts over the coming years. I am for strong European regional funds to finance the digital agenda but I am also asking for a strong political will to achieve the agenda's goals at local level," Kroes emphasised.
Markku Markkula stated that the opinion calls on the regions to adopt a pioneering role: "Implementing the Digital Agenda for Europe requires a major Europe-wide change in mental attitude: willingness to work in a horizontal and multidisciplinary fashion, overcoming traditional boundaries, breaking silos and a mindset change towards collaboration. Large-scale pioneering projects drawing on top European expertise offer a way of achieving the required change." The CoR rapporteur also drew attention to the importance of creativity for the Digital Agenda. In a digital society, consumers are also producers. "Finland has the potential to be a trailblazer for the creative industries in Europe," he said. "This pioneering role requires boldness and vision, which have to be transformed into economic activity. Implementing the Digital Agenda depends on there being an appropriate level of ambition and commitment. The Digital Agenda is crucial if we want to build a Europe based on knowledge, a low-carbon economy and high employment as a new economic model for the rest of the world."
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The Committee of the Regions
The Committee of the Regions is the EU's assembly of regional and local representatives. The mission of its 344 members from all 27 EU Member States is to involve regional and local authorities and the communities they represent in the EU's decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council are obliged to consult the Committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities. It can appeal to the EU Court of Justice if its rights are infringed or it believes that an EU law violates the subsidiarity principle or fails to respect regional or local powers.
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