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SPEECH/02/81

Mr Erkki Liikanen

Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society

"The future of the eEurope Action Plan"

Informal Telecoms Council

Vitoria, 22 February 2002

Introduction

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

You all remember how the story of eEurope started. At the end of 1999, it became clear that Europe needed focus and a sense of urgency to catch up in the information society. We then launched the eEurope initiative.

It was welcomed by the Lisbon Summit, which set a new strategic goal for the EU for the next decade: "to become the world's most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy".

The eEurope 2002 Action Plan became a main pillar of the Lisbon strategy. eEurope was the wake-up call that Europe needed. We can be proud of what we have achieved, together:

  • We have accelerated the decision making process in key areas: telecoms and e-commerce regulation, pan-European research networks, information and network security, etc.

  • We have gained a more accurate vision of the progress achieved at EU and national level on the basis of benchmark indicators.

  • Above all, we have created a powerful dynamic: the Internet is now on top of the political agenda in all our countries.

But we must not be complacent. Lisbon took place when the Nasdaq reached its peak. Today, it seems so long ago. People ask: Is it all history?

This question is legitimate. But my answer is firm: no, it isn't over:

  • If we want to increase productivity, we have: first, to take up the Internet; second to develop digital skills; and third to reorganise enterprises. All three elements are needed, not just one.

  • If we want greater efficiency and equity in public services, we need to take-up the Internet, and in parallel reform public administrations and services.

To sum up: if we wish Europe to be more competitive, then eEurope remains as valid as ever, and there is a strong rationale for extending it. In this context, I see five core priorities for eEurope 2005:

  • First, we need to promote attractive content for all Europeans.

  • Second, we have to provide public services on-line.

  • Third, we have to pursue digital inclusiveness for all Europeans.

  • Fourth, we have to promote faster Internet, broadband.

  • Fifth, we have to ensure trust and confidence in cyberspace.

1. Promoting content, services and applications

In the past, we have put emphasis on technology and regulation. Though the ultimate goal was to serve the user, the user wasn't always at the centre. From now on, we must build our policies around users, so that technology really appeals to them.

This perspective makes it clear that content, services and applications are decisive. What people are looking for, when they get on-line, are contents, services and applications which they enjoy, which simplify and improve their lives. And they must be localised to reflect Europe with its diversity of cultures and languages.

Our goal is an Internet for all. This will only happen if content is in mother tongue. Likewise, content must be available on all terminals: the computer, the mobile phone, the digital assistant and digital television. This is the only way to meet the diversity of uses and situations, and to make a success of new platforms such as 3G.

Developing contents is of course primarily up to the market. But government can make a difference. We are already moving in this direction with the eContent Programme, whose success goes well beyond our expectations. The same was true for the IST programme. But we can and we must go farther.

Today, the public sector is the biggest holder and producer of content in Europe. There is huge potential in the re-use of public sector information for added value services, which government should facilitate and encourage. We intend to soon propose a Directive to this end.

2. E-public services

Governments can also make a difference by providing public services online. E-government is now a priority in all our countries. This was confirmed at the eGovernment Conference in November.

A serious limitation still is that genuine interactivity is often missing. Yet this is the key to modern public services.

Putting public services on-line isn't enough to achieve efficiency gains. As in the private sector, change in the front office goes hand in hand with back office reorganisation and investment in human capital. Of course, productivity is only one half of the public service equation. The second is equity, as government can't choose its clients, it must serve all citizens.

There are seldom off-the-shelf solutions for e-government. A change requires political commitment and vision. In addition, what we have learned from the e-government conference is: you need to start small and scale fast.

Health is an area that deserves particular attention. It is of growing importance for citizens. At the same time we are confronted to rising health expenditures. My conviction is that e-health is a major win-win opportunity: it can help meet this cost challenge while at the same time increasing the quality of health services. It should therefore be an important part of eEurope 2005.

It is for the government to ensure social and human cohesion in the knowledge society.

3. Digital inclusion

All Europeans should be given the ability and opportunity to draw the benefits of the knowledge society. As Manuel Castells says, once you're out, things only get worse. Digital inclusion is a social imperative and a duty of the welfare state. But it is also a condition for economic growth. There are different levels that must be addressed to achieve access for all:

  • The first is education. Schools are in the frontline to give rise to a new generation of digitally-skilled citizens. All schools must be fitted with modern computers in sufficient numbers and broadband connections, and technology must be integrated in learning processes.   This will have a positive impact on Internet take-up in EU homes: indeed, Internet take-up is higher even in low-income households with children than in high-income households without children.

  • The second is training: Technology gives us new tools, such as distance e-learning, to give new skills to people already on the job market. This will facilitate access to life-long learning, which is key to ensuring the continued employability of Europeans.

  • The third is social. Digital exclusion is often a reflection of discrepancies in income and education levels. The multiplication of public Internet access points and cybercafés is part of the answer. But to reach everybody, we must promote alternative access terminals that are in each home the TV set, and each pocket the mobile terminal.

  • The fourth is the individual. People with special needs, especially sick, elderly and disabled, are often excluded from the Internet. This is a paradox because technology can ease their social integration. This requires that we invest in adequate technologies, as we do in the IST Programme. But often the technology exists but isn't used. We need pro-active government policies in making them widely available.

  • The fifth is geographical. No part of the EU territory can be excluded from the knowledge economy. This means that all regions and cities must have access to a state of the art communications infrastructure. This is primarily up to the private sector. Competitive markets help. But if there is a market failure, in outlying or depressed areas, government must jump in, through licensing obligations, incentives or financial support.

4. Promoting broadband access

Infrastructure takes me to the next priority: broadband. Why?

  • First, because once people are connected, they want higher speed.

  • Second, because this will allow to provide new and better services, both in the commercial and public area. Broadband is the key to greater productivity gains.

Today, high-speed Internet access is mostly via ADSL and cable modem. Other technologies will be needed, for full territorial coverage and for new services. Satellites, third-generation mobiles, fibre optic and fixed wireless access will quickly have to come into the picture.

Upgrading legacy infrastructures and rolling-out new networks is primarily a task for the market. But there is an important role for public authorities:

  • At EU level, we have to maintain favourable legal conditions. Unbundling has started to kick in, though not without delays. We have a new telecoms framework that is technology neutral. This will stimulate competition between platforms and accelerate investment in broadband.

  • At local level, there is a lot of activity, but sometimes contradictory. Rights of ways or sharing facilities such as ducts and antennas are in a key role.

  • In between, governments must take several measures to implement EU legislation, support local initiatives, promote multilingual contents, exchange best practices, and possibly develop financial instruments such as tax incentives.

Overall, what we need is a European strategy for broadband which harnesses activities at all levels of government.

5. Security and confidence building

A fifth factor is user trust and confidence in the network and the service providers. Today a growing number of users experience security problems. Over a year, spamming tripled and virus attacks doubled.

This is where we face yet another dilemma: we want an Internet that is as open and as easy to use as possible; but that makes an Internet that is more vulnerable. This is why we have always tried to strike the right balance between freedom and security.

Our priority must be to ensure a proper and timely implementation of EU legislation related to information and network security. We also have to stick to our agenda for 2002, including awareness, best practices, computer emergency response and security in e-government.

But this will not be enough. We have to take security a step farther:

  • First, the Internet is global. So must be our policy response. This calls for the reinforcement of international dialogue and co-operation.

  • Second, we must reinforce our means of action at EU level. We need a permanent structure as a most appropriate response.

Conclusion

To conclude, there is a strong rationale to extend the eEurope activity until 2005. The areas where we need new or additional action are clearly identified.

Europe needs content for all in the user's language. The public sector has a important role to play in this respect through public sector information and e-government. A balanced strategy requires strong emphasis on digital inclusion. It must be complemented by ambitious broadband and security policy.

eEurope 2002 was a success because the measures were sound and because all worked hard. But there was more: we had political backing at the Union's highest level. This is also what we need now, from the Barcelona Council. eEurope must remains a main pillar of the EU strategy to become the world's leading knowledge economy.

I therefore welcome the Spanish presidency's proposal to extend eEurope until 2005, and to put it on the agenda of the European Council at Barcelona and Sevilla.

Thank you for your attention.


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