Minister: Netherlands to be digital gateway to Europe

Along the physical gateway to continental Europe by sea or by air, the Netherlands is now positioning itself as the digital portal to the region. That’s the pitch of the country’s Minister for Foreign Trade Karien van Gennip. She points to the statistic that the Netherlands is poised to overtake South Korea as the most wired nation by the end of this year as well as her country’s existing strengths in grid computing, embedded systems and nanotechnology.

Van Gennip was speaking Monday at the High Tech Connections (HTC) event in Cambridge, Massachusetts, designed to foster technology exchanges and partnerships between Dutch and U.S. companies and universities.The event, the second of its kind, drew a Dutch delegation of 130 government, industry and academic officials and 150 of their U.S. peers. The first HTC took place in January 2004 in Silicon Valley and attracted 200 Dutch delegates and 400 local U.S. business executives.

The minister helped cofound HTC to try and address what she terms the “Dutch paradox,” which can equally well be applied to other European countries. “We have great research, but we don’t have the capacity to commercialize the research like the U.S. does,” she said in an interview at the event Monday. HTC runs through Tuesday.

“We aspire to be the gateway to Europe in every aspect,” she told the HTC delegates in her keynote address, which also featured a video message recorded by Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

“Our global economy is built on establishing strategic communications,” Balkenende said on the video. “The U.S. and the Netherlands have a great deal in common including a creative spirit.”

Both Balkenende and Van Gennip cited their country’s attractive tax climate and its work on eliminating bureaucracy as some of the reasons why U.S. technology companies might want to set up partnerships with Dutch firms and/or establish offices in the Netherlands. Also key is the nation’s broadband penetration, they both said, quoting figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

As of December 2004, the Netherlands had over 20 broadband access lines per 100 inhabitants, according to the OECD, in second position to South Korea as the most wired country in the world. Van Gennip believes the Netherlands will surpass the Asian nation in broadband penetration by year end, she said.

The Dutch government also has an aggressive investment plan in place to try to boost the country’s technological standing in grids, embedded systems and nanotechnology. Between 2004 and 2009, the Netherlands will invest around

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