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Brussels, 19 February 2004

Connecting Europe at high speed: reviewing the eEurope 2005 action plan

EU Member States and accession countries have made good progress in rolling out broadband access and in getting public services on line, says a mid-term progress report published by the European Commission on the eEurope 2005 Action Plan. eEurope, launched in 2000, seeks to ensure that the Union realises the full potential of the information society to drive growth through improved productivity and competitiveness. To do this eEurope now focuses on the widespread availability of secure broadband services and on action to promote greater use. The report recognises the important role of public authorities in areas such as procurement, e-government, education and eHealth, as well as the area of e-business where public authorities have an important role in setting the right regulatory conditions. The current Action Plan has ensured steady progress in most areas, but despite positive signs, more effort is needed to share experience and to tailor services to user needs rather than just focusing on installing new technology or applications. This also requires strong political leadership. The Action Plan forms the basis for a discussion with Member States and stakeholders with a view to identifying changes by summer 2004.

"eEurope is a key element of our approach to boosting productivity and competitiveness in the European Union, while ensuring that people in every part of the Union can draw the full benefit from the information society. It has started to take root, but this report shows that acting in partnership with Member States we now need to shift up a gear", commented Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen.

eEurope combines the right regulatory environment for investment, steps to promote the supply of new services and infrastructure and stimulate demand of those services and EU sponsored research into new information and communication technologies. The report notes that the share of basic government services fully available on line rose from 17% to 43% between October 2001 and October 2003. Broadband has also made good progress with the number of high-speed broadband connections almost doubling in the year to October 2003 and there has been strong progress in a number of policy areas. The analysis confirms the Commission's recent report on connecting Europe at high speed (see IP/04/154).

The Mid-term Review Communication outlines areas where the Action Plan should now be fine tuned. Future priorities could include focusing on interoperability, standards and multi-platform access in order to make sure networks and devices can talk to each other, learning from practical experiences in other Member States, focusing on content for new high speed services and developing businesses models for e-services.

Finally, a clearer picture of regional differences is needed as well as considering how to overcome the risk of a digital divide by using different technological solutions.

Key findings

The Report analysises progress in seven areas:

e-government: Information and Communication Technology is helping to support the modernisation of national administrations and improving the quality and availability of services. Even so, wide differences persist among Member States in the range of services delivered by electronic means and the extent to which services allow users to "interact" electronically with public authorities rather than just collect information or download forms.

e-learning: Almost all schools and education and training centres across Europe are now on line. However to deliver all the potential benefits, e-Learning requires reliable technology and high speed on-line access. Ensuring teaching staff are adequately trained, that courses are adapted to use on-line services and that there is good educational content is equally important.

e-health: With its dependence on bandwidth, security and privacy, and user-centred service provision, e-health encapsulates all the main themes of eEurope. Making the best use of technology to improve access, deliver better care and help contain costs places e-Health at the centre of health policy at regional, national and European levels. Most Member States now have dedicated e-health plans and some have set specific budgetary targets of how much of the budget should be invested in eHealth spending.

e-business: e-commerce data show a steady increase in buying and selling on-line, but more needs to be done to fully integrate ICT into business processes. The legal framework for e-business is taking shape, as Member States transpose EU directives on e-signatures, e-commerce and copyright directives into their national laws. These directives are supplemented by the recently-approved package of e-procurement directives for the public sector (see IP/04/150).

Broadband: Member States agreed at the Spring 2003 European Summit to put in place national broadband strategies by the end of 2003 and most Member States have now notified these to the Commission. The EU is acting to promote investment in broadband infrastructure in Europe's less-favoured areas, for example by using the structural funds to promote broadband development in rural and remote regions and in economically disadvantaged urban areas.

Security: Network and information security is a prerequisite for the information society. The creation of a European network and information security agency later this year is a welcome sign of progress. However, only 54% of companies have a formal "security" policy to address these issues.

e-inclusion: The report recommends implementing EU e-accessibility standards, Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines and common labelling rules for accessible web pages. To improve accessibility for disadvantaged population groups and regions, it suggests further promoting access over different platforms such as PCs, digital TV, 3rd Generation Mobile, etc. ICT access and digital literacy campaigns to will also play an important role.

The report can be found at:

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