Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
State of the Digital Union
Brussels, 16 June 2011
Welcome to everybody – to everybody in the room, and to those watching online.
The Digital Agenda for Europe is there to support citizens, to boost confidence in ICT and to lift Europe's competitiveness.
The Digital Agenda is ICT for you—and with you. We want to be totally transparent about our progress. And you have just seen the results of our Digital Scoreboard – good and bad – on the screen behind me.
I will dive into a couple of those issues later. First I want to remind you what the Agenda is for, and why we are here. Consider this speech a "State of the Digital Union".
This is my fifth decade in politics. And in that time you are the most passionate and talented stakeholder community I've ever dealt with. So I want you to know that I hear you, and read you online too. Most importantly, I get you.
I know we don't always have the exact same vision. But I am energised by the awareness we share about the significance of new technologies.
The internet will change our world. It's already doing so, economically and socially, in Europe and the developed world. We have seen the role it can play in countries like Tunisia and Egypt. And there are billions more still to come online: they will mainly be young people from emerging economies, and they will have a distinct outlook and needs.
Europe needs to connect to this force of change.
I see the European Commission's role as an enabler, a catalyst and an honest broker. And, if I may steal some jargon, I would say "interoperability" is essential to our political task, interoperability between Brussels, national governments and you, our stakeholders. This is essential to show we take this opportunity seriously.
Europe is in a difficult corner right now. The Commission's Europe 2020 strategy for economic growth seeks to save us from a lost decade of sluggish growth, and to give us jobs which are smart, green, and inclusive: an economy that promotes innovation, and provides jobs fit for the next generation.
ICT is the instrument to achieve this. We cannot promise everyone a job tomorrow. But if we don't seize the opportunities of the Digital Agenda, if we don't get it right, then come 2020 our lives will be the worse for it.
Already, SMEs that embrace the internet grow and export twice as much. ICT creates more than two jobs for every job lost. And in some member states, the internet already provides more than 6% of GDP.
If we want to continue and build on this success, we will need to make changes. That will not be easy. It will take time, and money, and political will.
From now on decision-makers should start seeing and using ICT as an essential engine for our economy – not as an optional extra. Because quite simply, ICT and prosperity are inseparable.
That is why we have the Digital Agenda. Yes, we are on track with many of our targets. But this, in itself, does not mean all is well: we cannot become complacent. We cannot pick and choose from among our targets: there is no point in ticking most of the boxes if we fail on the big items.
There is much still to do. I am not going to give you a shopping list of legislation today.
But I will give a very subjective selection of some of the policy challenges we face—some of the issues which are on my hit-list for the next 12 months.
First, we have to mobilise the money for high-speed network investments. To compete globally, and to ensure that no European is left behind, we must get the basics right, and that means broadband for all. High-speed broadband should be a bridge to Europe's future. But without it, we will be left at the starting line while the rest of the world races ahead.
This is not easy to achieve; it won't happen by itself. So we will need to get creative. It needs a mix of technologies – from wired networks to satellite. Innovative financing, including European project bonds and better use of EU funds to maximise leverage. And a strongly competitive market.
Action is needed from all levels, from grassroots to the very top. I am meeting with CEOs on 13 July; I hope that after that date I will be able to report some progress.
And ambitious spectrum management can also help. Our pride should be not in our ability to maintain the status quo, but in what we can achieve by acting together as the e-EU-27.
Alongside that, we also need trust in the internet. Don't get me wrong, I am not a scaremonger. We all know about the huge positive social, cultural and economic potential of the internet. But this potential can only be unlocked if we overcome the barriers to trust.
So, on the one hand, we need a sensible approach to cybersecurity.
There are those out there who seek to exploit ICT systems to commit espionage or fraud, or to disrupt them for political or economic reasons. I know, because the Commission itself has been a target.
We need to prepare ourselves. The Commission is continuing to push for proper national cyber-security strategies, national and EU contingency plans, a well-functioning network of Computer Emergency Response Teams or CERTs, and regular cyber exercises.
Earlier this month, the first steps were taken to unite the capacities of the EU institutions in a shared CERT.
And because this is a global problem, we need to work with international partners – a joint EU-US simulation exercise is already planned for the end of this year.
Trust is also important when it comes to children online. For me, the time children spend online is not a waste: on the contrary, it's a world of opportunity.
And tomorrow I'll be presenting awards to several people who have used their talent to create kids' websites which are both fun and educational.
But equally we should not be naïve. Offline, we protect our children: from harmful material, from bullying, and from abuse. And we teach them how to act with responsibility for themselves and others. We need to do all this on-line, too.
Children should surf safely, respectfully and responsibly. We need to empower children and parents with tools so that they can do that: tools that are simple, universally recognisable and effective.
For instance, it should be easy for children to report abusive content, cyber-bullying, or grooming. Building on current systems, I propose a "single-click" reporting system, so that webmasters—or in extreme cases specialised services—can be made aware fast. I am calling on a coalition of CEOs of all industry groups to come up with concrete solutions by the end of October.
Research shows that children are going online younger and younger, and that age restrictions on social networking sites are often ignored.
Younger children may not be aware of the risks they face, nor of how they can change their privacy settings.
But I don't think it's possible to try to prevent children using social networks: that wouldn't work.
Rather, I believe the online profiles of children should be set to privacy by default. And I want a clear commitment to this from the industry, in their revised self-regulatory framework.
There are also tools which can be developed in the area of age-rating and parental control. Later this year, I will present a more comprehensive initiative to empower and protect children who use new technologies.
Those are three of the key policy challenges on my plate. That's not to say there aren't more. For example, dealing with the lack of competition in the roaming market. Recognising the essential role of research - and putting Europe fully in the forefront. Supporting Open Data at national and local level. Urgently delivering the digital single market, so that internet content can benefit from economies of scale.
And doing all this while always keeping the user in control: I don’t want generalised, top-down regulation of what is good or bad on the Internet, because the Internet is, and must remain, a place of freedom. Yes, regulation can sometimes be necessary as an exceptional last resort – but even then, I'm thinking of keyhole surgery, not amputation.
I will admit, this is quite a challenge! But let's not forget what's it is for. It's for rebuilding our economies, for stronger communities, and for democracy. Not just in Europe, but across the world.
That is the story we should be telling. Our work is not just about gadgets, or overnight billionaires. Rather it is about fundamentally reshaping the world we live in.
To achieve all this, we need to ensure that decision makers cannot hide from the imperative of the internet revolution. We need to recognise and champion the role of ICT for our future.
Yes, we need dialogue and connections between Brussels, national capitals and private sector investors.
But we also need dialogue with you, our stakeholders. Because, for all of our goals, whether it is ensuring we get broadband for all, or making copyright fit for the digital age – it cannot be done without your active input.
Not just from the European Parliament and the Council, but from every single person listening or reading or tweeting today.
That is why we included your own big ideas in the programme of the Digital Assembly.
That is why I actively consult young entrepreneurs, researchers and civil society - to challenge me and inform my thinking. They keep the Digital Agenda connected to its creative source and mean we can respond to the energy coming from younger generations.
That is why I am promoting creativity, through hackathons for innovative apps, and competitions for the best websites, like the ones we will celebrate today and tomorrow.
So please tell me what I need to change, and also what I must not change. Tell me what you are afraid we may miss. And tell me when the rules aren't working.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This revolution is the opportunity of our time. It is a chance, perhaps the chance, for us to transform the economy so we can maintain our standard of living.
Yes, we are in a time of crisis and budget cuts. But for me this underlines all the more the imperative. At a time of global change, it is not an option to stay put. If we use ICT effectively the change can be less painful, and more effective. If we don't invest in the future, we will remain stuck in the past.
We are all involved in this transition and there is room for all of us to take part – I am living proof of that! So let's make the right choice. Let's use the creativity of all of you, let's be inspired to think outside the box, and let's generate a sustainable future. With it will come more wealth, better jobs and a higher quality of life.