The local and regional impact of Europe's Digital Agenda Strategy will be the focus of a conference organised by the Committee of the Regions (CoR) on 2 July in Brussels. About 250 participants, including policy-makers from all levels of government, will debate local policy approaches and best practices in getting the most out of digital technologies on the basis of three aspects: developing digital strategies at regional and interregional level, digital entrepreneurship, e-government and e-participation. The conference will be held a few days before the next CoR plenary session where the CoR position and recommendations as regards the EU Cybersecurity Strategy and the EU plans to lower the cost of deploying broadband will be adopted.
In view of the event, CoR President Ramón Luis Valcárcel has emphasised the urgent need for ICT innovation in Europe and has welcomed EU initiatives to improve the digital capacity of SMEs and tackle the lack of ICT skills: "Europe has to catch up with the ICT labour market, and in particular the entrepreneurial climate in the digital sector. I am looking forward to the start-up and roll-out of the "Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs" and I particularly welcome initiatives such as the European Commission's ICT Innovation Voucher Scheme which will be presented at the conference. This innovation financing programme matches with the typical European SME culture and our ambition to foster small-scale and locally embedded grassroot initiatives".
The CoR First Vice-President, Mercedes Bresso, who will be concluding the conference, points out the prominent role of cities and regions when it comes to "e-government" and "e-participation": In times of growing public distrust in public authorities, we need to speed up our efforts to connect and involve the citizens while offering the best possible service. Local and regional authorities play a key role in the innovation of public service and in guaranteeing a two-way interaction with the citizens. ICT should be used to improve the meaningfulness, quality and productivity of the work of public authorities and reduce red tape for the general public and business."
Also due to speak at the conference, Robert Madelin, European Commission's Director-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, will also give his views on the context, challenges and progress of the Digital Agenda, and on the role of key drivers that regions and cities can play in this regards: "The Internet is the locomotive of the 21st century: it brings to the regions prosperity, knowledge and jobs – but for that, it needs high-speed railways called broadband! Yet no territory should miss that train, so the Commission has set the target of having every European digital by 2020. Regions have the right footprint to help Europe reach this ambitious objective: they know best where the needs are – eHealth, SME clusters, research – and I trust they will seize the opportunity and use the new round of Structural and Investment Funds in a smart way".
The conference will also present the results of a survey organised by the CoR 2020 Monitoring Platform that assessed the implementation of the Digital Agenda for Europe's flagship initiative from a local and regional perspective. Based on responses from regions and cities, the survey shows among others that the widespread provision of fast broadband internet, improving digital literacy rates and research and innovation in the ICT sector are seen as major challenges in achieving the aims of the Digital Agenda.
Following the adoption of various opinions on the Digital Agenda Initiative itself and related aspects (e.g. eGovernment, re-use of public sector information, Data Protection Package, Cloud Computing), the CoR is due to adopt at its next plenary session (3-4 July) an opinion of Gábor Bihary (PES/HU), Member of Budapest General Assembly, on the Commission's proposal to reduce the costs of deploying broadband. While welcoming the priorities outlined in the proposal, the rapporteur expresses disappointment on the failure to emphasise the role of local and regional authorities in coordinating building works and urges the Commission and the Member States to ensure their full involvement in the governance of ICT-related initiatives. "High construction costs are holding back the spread of high-speed electronic networks, particularly in areas where market considerations make financing difficult, for example in geographically remote, socially disadvantaged or rural areas. Access to existing physical infrastructure in public buildings and blocks of flats requires careful planning and implementation, with local and regional authorities playing a key role in coordinating building work and reconciling the interests of the public and private sectors", said the rapporteur.
The CoR July plenary will also discuss an opinion drafted by Robert Bright (PES/UK), Leader of Newport City Council, which insists on the need to harmonise cybersecurity standards across the EU as soon as possible. The draft opinion however warns that countering cyber threats on national and EU levels is insufficient, as an effective cybersecurity strategy requires genuine partnership with local and regional authorities. In this regard, the rapporteur argues that "With online threats to utility services such as local water and energy supplies, and increasing responsibility for protecting data security and delivering digital services and products to citizens, cities and regions are on the frontline of the battle against cybercrime".
The event was the first of a series of conferences being organised by the CoR that assess each of the seven Europe 2020 flagship initiatives at a local and regional level. The conclusions of the conference will feed into the CoR's contribution to the mid-term evaluation of the Europe 2020 strategy to be available at the 6th European Summit of Regions and Cities to be organised by the CoR in Athens on 6-7 March 2014.
Digital Agenda for Europe, which was adopted in 2010 as one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy, is the EU's strategy for a flourishing digital economy by 2020. The initiative is meant to accelerate the roll-out of fast and ultra-fast Internet access and reap the benefits of a single digital market for the private and public sectors