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IP/03/396

Brussels, 18 March 2003

Structural funds : positive impact on the information society

Michel Barnier, the Commissioner responsible for regional policy, today presented the results of an evaluation showing that the structural funds make a major contribution to promoting the information society. The study estimates that between 2000 and 2006 some Euro 10 billion, or 7.3% of the Structural Funds, will go to measures in this field. This means that the EU is making important contribution to the achievement of the objectives set by the Member States in Lisbon in 2000, especially the e-Europe initiative.

Presenting the study, Michel Barnier said: "The information society presents a real opportunity for regional development, helping even the remotest regions to network with the rest of the Union and beyond. It represents a particular challenge to the cohesion policies of the Union where it is important to take steps to overcome the "digital divide" that, in Europe, often goes hand-in-hand with the existence of important gaps between rich and poor. For this reasons I have sought to ensure that every regional development programme supported by Europe has an information society dimension in one form or another.

He added, " European aid can be increasingly channelled to this sector since the Commission recently clarified that public support for broadband and mobile telephone infrastructures is possible without breaking competition rules. As a result, the share of structural funds dedicated to the information society should increase from 2% in the period, 1994-99 to 7,3% in the current period".

The study compared data from 150 regional and three national programmes supported by European funds, covering the 2000-2006 period. The amounts devoted to the information society vary from 0.6 Euro per inhabitant in Lower Saxony (Germany) to 358 Euro in the Border, Midlands and West region (Ireland). Without the necessary hardware investments, the realisation of the objectives set at Lisbon will be slowed down. Other key findings of the study are:

  • about half of the regions, of which a high proportion are Objective 1(1) regions, give priority to the information society which is a dimension that is taken into account across the entire programme;

  • in some cases cities are the key players, as in Portugal for example, where a digital city concept has been developed ("Infoville");

  • the scale and ambition of regional programmes promoting the information society is determined by a variety of factors, such as the degree of maturity of the market, population density, availability of skills and planning capacity;

  • amongst the top 20 regions, ranked according to information society expenditure per capita, six are Greek, four UK and two Spanish. Seven are island regions or regions with a mainly insular character.

The study recommends the following improvements:

  • regions should invest more in strategy development and building regional capacity, especially in the assessment of regional needs and project selection;

  • regional information society priorities should be driven by regional demand and supply-side measures, and should offer a balance in terms of the development of telecommunications infrastructure (e.g. broadband networks), access, applications and services, digital content and skills;

  • specific indicators and data should be developed, especially at regional level, in order to monitor progress in terms of bridging the "digital divide" within and between regions.

Background

The EU's Structural Funds finance multi-annual programmes to foster regional development, employment and structural change. The programmes are drawn up in a partnership associating regions, Member States and the European Commission. Together with the Cohesion Fund, the total for the period 2000-2006 for all structural instruments amounts to Euro 213 billion for the EU of 15 members. Two thirds of the interventions are concentrated in Objective 1 regions, where the gross domestic product is below 75% of the Community average.

Structural Fund programmes include the development of the information society as a general priority. The term 'information society' refers to the economic, social and institutional process in which change and development of information and communication technologies are embedded. The rate at which it is growing and affecting people's lives differs between Member States and regions. In recent years, the European Commission has launched a number of related activities, the latest of them being the e-Europe initiative and its subsequent action plans.

More information

The full text of the study can be found at this site:

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/sources/docgener/evaluation/rado_en.htm

More about the information society is available here:

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/index_en.htm

(1) Objective 1 : « Promoting the development and structural adjustment of regions whose development is lagging behind ». These regions are defined by having a GDP per capita below 75% of the EU average.


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