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Brussels, 14 December 2000

Overcoming the digital divide: The Commission is organising a conference on the information society and cohesion. Lyon, 18 and 19 December 2000.

On 18 and 19 December the European Commission is organising in Lyon, France, a conference on the information society and economic, social and regional cohesion. In the context of the initiative to promote the information society, known as eEurope, the new information and communication technologies will be a priority for the structural funds for the period 2000-2006. How can the European Commission and its partners in the regions ensure equal access for everybody to the new technologies? How can we build on past experience to do more and better? This is at the heart of the debate which will involve nearly 500 political, economic and regional decisionmakers and specialists in new technologies. Michel Barnier, the Commissioner responsible for regional policy and Erkki Liikanen, the Commissioner responsible for enterprise and the information society will present the European Commission's thinking on the matter.

The stakes are high

There are major differences between European regions where the use of new communication and information technologies are concerned, and the threat of the digital divide is growing.

The stakes are high: new technologies are an important component in regional competitiveness and the organisation of society in tomorrow's world. They also provide an opportunity, by overcoming geographical obstacles, for bringing the outermost regions closer to the heart of Europe and combating various form of exclusion.

Michel Barnier, the Commissioner responsible for regional policy, said that "the Commission and its partners have understood that the information society represents a tremendous opportunity: we must all seize it. Between 1994 and 1999 already, 28 regions were involved in the development of a regional strategy and action plan for the information society, sophisticated technological infrastructures were developed and the pilot initiatives put in place have proved successful". Erkki Liikanen, the Commissioner responsible for Enterprise and Information Society said that, "through the internet and e-commerce we can achieve the "death of distance". Regions, industries and citizens which so far have regarded themselves as distant or remote from public administrations or economic centres of the EU, may become fully connected and thus fully benefit from the advantages of the information society".

The new programming period (2000-2006) offers new opportunities for the information society. In this context, the development of the new information and communication technologies is a priority and must become part and parcel of the regional development programmes. Europe needs to have a "digital reflex".

When the new regional programmes become operational, it will be necessary to translate the decisions of principle into concrete projects and investment decisions. For example, Finland has decided on a public and private sector investment target of EUR 1 000-1 300 million, with EUR 229-293 million from the structural funds. In Portugal in 1994 and the year 2000, the structural funds helped to connect all secondary schools to the Internet. By 2006 they will enable all Portuguese schools to be connected to the WorldWide Web.

How best to use the structural funds to respond to the changes brought about by the information society? What should be the respective roles of government, business, the regional partners and citizens? How can we work together to overcome the digital divide?

The conference will take place in Lyon, a city which has shown its eagerness to take up new technologies, in particular through the association "Lyon infocité" which brings together 140 start-ups. It will make it possible to identify examples of good practice, compare the experiences of all concerned, examine the criteria justifying public assistance with the construction of telecommunications infrastructures, facilitate the transition of SMEs and administrations to the new economy and address the question of training.

The participants will include Michel Barnier and Erkki Liikanen, the Commissioners responsible for regional policy and the information society respectively, Greg Rhode, Assistant Secretary for Commerce from the US Government, the presidents of the regional assemblies and those responsible for development agencies, the social partners, telecoms operators, and the tertiary sector.

The conclusions arising from the debates will be used in the formulation of future programmes concerning the information society.


The structural funds will be one of the main instruments for implementing the eEurope initiative adopted in March 2000.

The main objectives of this initiative are:

  • to bring each household, individual and administration on line;

  • to create in Europe a spirit of enterprise open to digital technologies, instill Europe with a strong digital culture underpinned by an entrepreneurial culture ready to fund and develop new ideas;

  • ensure that the information society promotes social integration.

During the 2000-2006 programming period, information society measures will be among the priority objectives of regional policy:

  • the development and structural adjustment of regions lagging behind in their development (Objective 1),

  • economic and social conversion in areas encountering structural difficulties (Objective 2),

  • adaptation and modernisation of national education, training and employment

For further information (including the full conference programme), please consult:

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