Euro commissioner unwraps plan to boost tech growth

The European Union’s (E.U.’s) Commissioner for Information Society and Media is set to unveil a new initiative for advancing technology development and investment, following concerns that Europe is falling behind the U.S. and Asia.

Commissioner Viviane Reding previewed her “i 2010” program at the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum in Prague on Tuesday, telling public sector leaders at the event that they will have to invest more if they are to spur Europe’s IT advancement.

The initiative will be a central feature in the relaunch of the so-called Lisbon strategy, due to be announced by the European Commission (E.C.) Wednesday morning, Reding said. The Lisbon strategy was launched in March 2000 as a 10-year effort to advance economic, social and environmental renewal in the E.U.

At the core of the Lisbon strategy is the widespread implementation of information and communication technologies (ICTs). But halfway into the strategy the E.U. has failed to achieve the goals or timetables it set out for itself, Reding said. “We are underachieving in both growth and innovation,” the commissioner said.

For example, use of ICTs in the late 1990s led to a 40 per cent growth in productivity in the E.U., compared to 60 per cent growth in the U.S., Reding said. Broadband penetration in Europe stands at an average of 7.8 per cent, behind that of both the U.S. and Asia, she added. “We are behind in both penetration and speed,” Reding said.

The commissioner lobbied for greater broadband adoption and a push on 3G (third-generation) and satellite technologies to help the E.U. accelerate its technological development. “At this mid-term review of the Lisbon Strategy it is the right time to renew our efforts,” Reding said.

Her i 2010 initiative aims to create an environment in which communications and digital services are adopted more broadly, where localized content is created, such as games, and where research and development levels are increased. The Commissioner will push the E.C. to double the current ICT research budget, she said, but added that increased investment must also come from the private sector and from individual governments.

The E.U.’s level of investment in ICTs is currently one third that of the U.S. and two thirds the level of investment made by Japan, she said. “We invest later and slower with a negative impact on economic results,” Reding said.

The commissioner’s remarks echoed sentiments expressed earlier in the day by Czech Republic Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, who said advancements in ICTs are crucial to keeping Europe competitive. “Having an information society is something we all have to keep pace with,” Gross said.

Talk of progress is not enough, Reding declared. Leaders must act because “urgency is called for to make Europe competitive.”

The Microsoft Government Forum runs through February 2.

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