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Member of the European Commission responsible for Information Society and
Opening of the EU-South East Asia Forum on the Information
Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my immense pleasure to be with you here today in a country which is one of the leaders in information & communication technologies (ICT). What Singapore is achieving – especially with the new initiative they launched on “Creative Community” is instructive for us all. Today is an opportunity to look, learn, and understand from each other. This is essential.
On behalf of the European companies present here and on my own behalf, let me therefore express my sincere thanks to Singapore for hosting the EU-South East Asia 2006 Forum and to the ASEAN Secretariat for supporting it.
It would like to underline elements which are for me the key for a prosperous development of our two regions: research and dialogue on ICT.
But before that, let me say a few words on the importance of regional integration for the development of ICT.
For centuries, Europe was the scene of frequent and bloody wars and in particular France and Germany fought each other three times between 1875 and 1945 with terrible loss of life. At the end of World War II a number of European leaders became convinced that the only way to secure a lasting peace between their countries was to unite them economically and politically. As a result, in 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community was set up, with six members: Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, France, Italy and the Netherlands. The decision to place, in the hands of an independent supranational body called the "High Authority", the power to take decisions about the coal and steel industry in these countries is unique. This was the start of the “European Union” which has currently 25 members and probably more in the coming years.
Since the early 1960s a series of European leaders understood the interest for a better coordination of national research efforts and called for a European research programme. In 1984, a ‘European Strategic Programme for Research and Development in Information Technology' (Esprit) was set up: so ESPRIT represents the father of the current European research programme on Information and Communication Technology: the Information Society Technology Programme (IST).
Against this background, Europe sees with great interest the emergence of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was established in 1967 in Bangkok by the five original Member Countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand and has grown now to 10 member countries.
ICTs have now an increased presence on the ASEAN agenda with in particular the adoption of the e-Asean initiative in November 1999 and the Singapore Declaration in 2003. This action agenda has the objectives to harness technological advances in ICTs, to create digital opportunities for ASEAN and to enhance ASEAN’s overall competitiveness: so similar objectives as the EU’s i2010 initiative – a European Information Society for growth and jobs - adopted by the European Commission on 1 June 2005.
Indeed the i2010 initiative that places information and communication technologies (ICT) at the heart of this wider ambition for economic growth and the creation of more and better jobs in Europe.
The first pillar of i2010 is the strive towards “a single European information space” in which regional scale markets can emerge based on open competition and efficient and accessible services. In Europe, we strive to break down barriers to emerging sectors - such as IPTV, mobile TV or wireless applications, for example - whether they come from market definitions which are becoming obsolete or from regulatory instruments which no longer serve the purpose of promoting competition in this regard. Accordingly, I have decided to carry out two big legislative reforms in 2005 and 2006: modernising the EU rules on audiovisual content and reviewing the electronic communications regulatory framework.
The second pillar of i2010 is more investment in ICT research and development. Industries have an enormous potential to innovate and deploy new ICTs. Yet this can only be if the results of combined actions on research and deployment of applications. For this we need to do three things: invest; invest; and invest ever more in research and development, putting together whenever possible private and public funding.
The third pillar of i2010 seeks to promote a more inclusive and sustainable European Information Society. ICT is a now an integral part our lives. It can and it should help to improve today’s and tomorrow’s socio-economic challenges such as health care, quality of life, digital libraries and intelligent cars. In i2010, I have proposed so far altogether four ICT flagship initiatives to give critical mass to our work in important and visible areas where ICT has a positive impact on citizens: “intelligent car”, “digital libraries”, “ICT for independent living in an ageing society“ and “ICT for sustainable growth”.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
EU – ASEAN relations have moved to a next level with the Communication from the European Commission in 2003 calling for a new partnership with South East Asia. To demonstrate our commitment, delegations of the European Commission were opened in Singapore and Malaysia and are complementing the existing network of delegation in South East Asia.
The Communication also underlines the interest for a reinforced dialogue on the information society. So an event like the EU-South East Asia Forum on the Information Society (EUSEA2006) can create great opportunities between our two regions through business deals, policy and regulatory exchange of views and research co-operation.
As ideas and knowledge can only flourish in an open environment, Europe’s research programmes call for cooperation at a worldwide level. Looking at the current results of the Information Society and Technology part of our programmes, we can see that this openness enabled a large number of international projects to achieve concrete results to our mutual benefit.
In particular, I wish to congratulate South East Asian organisations for their strong participation in European Research programmes. South East Asia is one of the leading regions, outside the European Union and associated states. The quality of the projects South East Asia participates in is also remarkable: 21 % of all submitted proposals where South East Asian organisations joined in have been accepted for funding from the European Union. This shows that South East Asia has been very successful in associating with good teams in Europe. In total, Europe has been financing some 29 South East Asian organisations through its research and development projects, in a wide variety of sectors such as telecommunications, Open Source Software (OSS), GRID and audiovisual systems.
The benefits of participating in our research programmes are not just about money. In order to have a good co-operation, modern ICT based infrastructures – so-called e-Infrastructures - are also critical. This is why Europe has established a high speed research network for education and research called GÉANT2 that supplies unprecedented computing power to an estimated 3 million users from over 3,500 academic institutions in 34 countries across Europe.
GÉANT continues to expand the network both by increasing its transmission speeds and extending its geographic coverage in particular at intercontinental level by connectivity with Latin America, the Mediterranean region and Asia. Connectivity with South East Asia is underway through the Trans EurAsia Information Network 2 (TEIN 2) and the ORIENT project.
TEIN 2 offers direct connectivity to GÉANT2, Europe’s multi-gigabit network, and allows researchers from South East Asia to collaborate with their counterparts in Europe and thus to operate on a truly global scale. TEIN2 has been largely funded by the European Commission to consolidate a regional network. The developed partners in the Asia Pacific, not least Singapore, are investing in the network alongside the European Commission. The network is now live, and it is anticipated that all partners will be actively exchanging data in 2006
TEIN2 is the enabling factor for the Asia-Europe research collaboration. For collaboration on multi-disciplinary applications in science and engineering, TEIN2 is a key factor since the Grid very much depends on a reliable and global underlying communication infrastructure. One recent example of successful collaboration between Asia and Europe is the use of the grid for drug discovery application against the avian influenza virus. TEIN2 has therefore a powerful catalytic effect which will give a strong long term regional backbone and which can help Asia play a leading part in future global research collaborations.
Planning for the follow-on Seventh Framework Programme for research and development (FP7) is well underway. The European Commission made a proposal for a new Framework programme (FP7) to fund research and development from 2007 to 2013, a change compared to previous framework programmes (four years) as FP7 will run for seven years so providing a stable framework for European research policy. A budget increase of 30% is also foreseen and the IST Programme which is part of FP7 will get a budget of above 9 billion Euro over 7 years.
My priorities for the new IST programme include next generation networks – this is the issue of the Ministerial meeting organised these days by the Government of Singapore – embedded systems, new instruments such as Joint Technology Initiatives, and targeted initiatives on eHealth, ICT for independent living and intelligent cars.
The new Framework Programme will be ever more open to international cooperation. It will have dedicated actions that will address issues jointly identified between European and non-European countries or regions of the world. International co-operation is essential to ensure exploitation of research results on a global scale but also to build interoperable technology solutions. Specific actions may for instance include supporting the development of advanced and low-cost technologies for electronic communications.
So it must be a genuine win-win situation. It is also a means to know each other better, and reach consensus on global critical issues such as security and dependability, or the so-called “digital divide”.
Another form of cooperation where we can achieve a better win-win situation is the dialogue on our regulatory frameworks for electronic communications. Europe believes that competition is the best way to ensure a quicker and cheaper roll-out of new information society and media services. A strong, independent regulator, as well as clear rules for market access are crucial in that respect. The EU has gathered an interesting experience on these issues and we are about to improve our regulatory framework. Therefore, we are willing to exchange information and best practices with ASEAN countries. Ladies and gentlemen,
Europe is firmly committed to freedom of speech, notably on the internet. We condemn cyber repression, which remains current practice in too many countries in the world. In parallel, we aim at bridging the "digital divide" separating rich countries from poor countries notably in terms of access to the Internet. This is obviously a global issue, and as such, it was rightly addressed by the UN’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held in Tunis last year.
In South East Asia, like elsewhere, Europe will assist developing countries to take every advantage of ICTs in their pursuit of development. This is not just an economic issue, but also a social one, not least given the dimension new technologies now play for human rights and freedom of speech. As regards another important item of the WSIS follow-up, the Internet governance, the EU has been instrumental in supporting the summit’s conclusion that all governments should play an equal role in addressing public policy issues. We will therefore support the UN’s efforts to start a process of enhanced cooperation, as well as we welcome the multi-stakeholder Internet Governance Forum that will take place in Athens later this year.
The challenge now is to build on the momentum achieved by the Summit and that we identify concrete mechanisms to achieve the specific objectives agreed. One way of doing this is to establish regular political dialogues between the regions of the world. Let me indicate here that the European Commission will hold, in 2006, dialogues on Information Society with the Mediterranean countries, Latin America, Africa, China and India. Our objective is to launch a similar dialogue with South East Asia and I am confident that our on-going discussions with the ASEAN secretariat will bear fruit.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am convinced that it is crucial that we work together to address the technology challenges of the future. Our regions have proud traditions in research excellence. Combining our efforts and complementing each other is of mutual benefit. Therefore, I sincerely hope that Europe’s Seventh Framework Programme can act as a seed to stimulate our cooperation and increase South East Asian participation in our research programmes.
Let me finish by way of an invitation. I would like here to encourage South East Asians to come to Europe to consolidate the results of EUSEA2006. A perfect occasion will be the Information Society Technology (IST) conference, to be held in Helsinki from 21st to 23rd November 2006. This event will be used to launch the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme. Over 3000 ICT experts are expected and it is a unique opportunity for preparing the ground for future joint-activities between South East Asia and Europe.
There are a lot of opportunities for growth between our two regions and many new jobs can be created in these high potential sectors, if we work in synergy.
Thank you very much for your attention.