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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Building a connected continent for the next generation
FT – Telefonica Millennials Summit /Brussels
19 September 2013
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This study shows us a lot about our younger generation. About their abilities, expectations, and values.
In my job I'm responsible for information and communications technology – the digital tools we are all familiar with. And so in that job, I meet a lot of those young people. For some this technology is still a novelty; yet for these "millennials", it's part of the furniture. They see not just new tools, but new ways to interact, new ways to collaborate; new opportunities. They're my advisors and inspirations. I trust them and I believe in them.
When I meet those young digital innovators – like at the recent Campus Party in London – it's always refreshing and energising. Because it's not just people with a different set of skills: but with a different attitude, a different way of working together, and a different horizon.
I'm determined to give that younger generation what they need and expect. Here are three things in particular.
First. I've asked many of my own advisers, some bright minds from across Europe, the most important changes we need to make in Europe. And nearly always the first thing they say is education. Education: that's where it starts.
And it's not just about giving people a few lessons in how to use a computer – normally they know that already! It's not about just putting some computers in classrooms or giving your school a website. It's about ICT transforming teaching, just as is has transformed and disrupted so much else in our lives. Learning anywhere, anyhow; learning that's made-to-measure not off-the-peg. It's about truly integrating technological tools for twenty-first century teaching.
The fact, is ICT enables a whole new way of learning. Information is no longer locked up; there is an open world out there for all to explore. Open resources that enable a million different ways to learn. Teachers who are no longer gatekeepers, but guides.
If we enable that there's a huge opportunity. Of course there are plenty of barriers: teachers unfamiliar or underequipped. Legal uncertainty on what you can use or share. Or even starting with the basics: in some countries, almost half the pupils don't even have internet at school.
So next week I and my colleague Androulla Vassiliou will be unveiling some proposals to open up education in Europe.
The second thing people need is jobs. And if I were a young person right now that's what I'd be most worried about. And I'd be pretty angry at any politician who didn't take that seriously.
In fact there are loads of jobs in the digital sector. More than can be filled at the moment. Jobs just waiting for the next generation with the right digital skills.
Ensuring we fill them will be good for our workforce, and good for our economy. That's why we set up a Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs. And I'm delighted that Telefonica, also organising this event, were among the first to present pledges to that initiative. Their "Talentum" internship programme – and their career marketplace – which I got to see a few weeks ago in London. Those are a big step forward.
It's not just about safe jobs in big companies of course. With low costs , low barriers to entry, and no limit to your creativity, the internet is a great place for innovators to be. And the natural home for anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset.
People who don't just think: "I could buy this gadget!" – but: "I could make it better"! People who don't just notice all the problems – but spot the opportunities, and innovate to capture them. Those who don't dream of a nice steady "9 to 5" – but want to take a risk and break out on their own.
And I know there are many grassroots initiatives to get kids hooked on these skills. Like a "European coding week" to show schoolchildren that programming is a fun, creative way of making ideas happen. Indeed my own Young Advisors are working on some of those ideas.
In a time of crisis, it is those innovators who can really get us out – it is they who are innovating and creating jobs.
When people think of internet innovation, they think of Silicon Valley. It's time they thought also of the vibrant startup culture we have here in Europe. Giving it more recognition, and the right supporting resources.
That's why our Startup Europe initiative is helping all the continent's entrepreneurs. Looking at tools from accelerators to venture capital to crowdfunding.
That's why I asked some of Europe's top successful entrepreneurs to present me with their Startup Manifesto. Some ideas for how to make Europe a better place to be for innovators. They've done it, it's online, and thousands have signed up to it to. And I hope thousands more will do, too. It's at startupmanifesto.eu – so take a look.
The third thing young people want is to stay connected. And they clearly have very high expectations there. Glued to their smartphones, they expect constant, continuous connectivity. Instant access to content seamlessly on any device: not having to switch it off to avoid a huge roaming bill abroad.
Yet, today, we are letting down those expectations and those people. Half of European households don't have fast broadband coverage; the EU has just 6% of the world's 4G. When you do use your smartphone you face unfairly high prices, roaming charges, operators blocking services for no good reason.
Our young people are digital, they don't expect a sector still geared for analogue.
So we have proposed new rules to make Europe the connected continent. To boost those broadband networks. Bring down those barriers. End roaming. End blocking. End confusing contracts and unfair prices.
Give those citizens and those operators the dynamic, innovative market that they need.
Young Europeans are more digital than the older generation. But this study shows that compared to young people elsewhere in the world, they are actually more pessimistic about the possibilities of technology.
I want to change that. Once we led the world in ICT: why not any more? Why shouldn’t our people have hope in a digital future? Why shouldn't Europe be the home of a vibrant digital culture, strong digital companies, and limitless digital creativity? Why shouldn't the next Facebook, the next Google, the next Kickstarter be European?
Good questions. I think they can. We have the tools, we have the technology, we definitely have the talent. And in a connected continent there is no limit to our ambitions. Thank you.