Representatives of the European Commission and the Dutch Presidency have used their opening addresses to the 2004 Information Society Technologies (IST) conference in The Hague, the Netherlands, to call for a reassessment of Europe’s agenda for information and communication technologies (ICT).
Fabio Colasanti, Director-General of the Commission’s Information Society DG, and Chris Buijink, Director-General of Enterprise and Innovation at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, were addressing delegates at the Commission’s flagship annual technology event. More than 3,000 visitors from industry, government and civil society had registered for the three day programme from 15 to 17 November.
During his speech, Mr Colasanti reminded the audience that technological progress is central to achieving the EU’s ambitions. ‘ICT are main drivers to improving productivity and economic growth. In Europe for instance, almost 40 per cent of the productivity growth in the last ten years was due to ICT.’ New technologies also underpin progress in all major scientific domains, he added.
‘This is why, more than ever before, we need to continuously revise our policy for ICT, sharpen its goals and make sure that our investment in this field is at the right level,’ Mr Colasanti argued. He welcomed the achievements that have already been made under the eEurope 2005 Action Plan, particularly in the areas of broadband deployment, e-government and e-health. However, while he feels the eEurope 2005 targets remain valid, the Director-General urged a review of the Action Plan’s ‘modalities’, particularly in relation to the Lisbon objectives.
As well as reviewing the EU’s overall ICT policies, Mr Colasanti also called for a redefinition of the IST research agenda. For the remaining two years of activities under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), he revealed that the new Work Programme – unveiled at the conference – had three main goals. First, to maintain investments in the research priorities identified at the start of FP6; second, to improve the integration of IST research in an enlarged EU – particularly by stimulating the participation of smaller entities and those from the new Member States; and third, to act as a bridge to FP7 by introducing new research themes in the form of pilot projects.
As far as FP7 itself is concerned, Mr Colasanti believes that the EU should aim to make Community funded research more visible to citizens, businesses and decision makers, which will require a more thematic approach to research objectives compared with the focus on instruments and funding mechanisms under the current framework programme.
In an interview after his presentation, CORDIS News asked Mr Colasanti what impact the proposed doubling of the EU’s research budget might have on the IST priority. He responded that while existing channels of collaborative research would no doubt benefit from increased funding, two vital areas for extra investment would be researcher mobility initiatives and new pan-European research infrastructures.
With international delegations from South Africa, China and India attending the conference, and with a host of other third country representatives present, Mr Colasanti also stressed the importance of international collaboration in IST research. ‘This is a double goal because, firstly, there is a genuine desire within the EU to increase cooperation with these countries for our mutual benefit, and secondly, if developing countries are to catch up economically, ICT will have to play a major role. They are not only advanced tools for rich nations, they can also address basic needs. For example, mobile telephony may provide the solution to the common story that half of the world’s population has never made a phone call,’ he concluded.
Speaking on behalf of the Dutch EU Presidency, meanwhile, Mr Buijink placed a great deal of emphasis on the responsibilities of individual Member States in helping to reshape ICT policy. Following its publication of a report entitled ‘Rethinking the European ICT agenda’, the Dutch Presidency organised a high level meeting in Amsterdam in September, at which delegates agreed that all 25 EU Member States must draw up national ICT agenda’s covering 2005 to 2010. ‘I would like to reiterate this appeal,’ said Mr Buijink. He later told CORDIS News that while all Member States must focus on the European agenda, it is vital that they do this in the context of their own national agendas.
The Director-General also called on Europeans to offer ‘that little bit extra’ compared with their global competitors. ‘We can achieve this by, for example, adding the human element – by designing appliances in such a manner that they become user-friendly for everyone, young and old alike.’
But, he added, ‘at the same we must avoid stepping on our own rake, so to speak. If ICT developments take place too fast, a section of the population will simply give up, or at the very least not have the opportunity to keep up. I want attention devoted not only to ICT developments themselves, but also specifically to the periphery of ICT.’ Mr Buijink cited education and Internet access as two important means of preventing the spread of ICT from leading to a dichotomy in society.
While research excellence in the area of ICT is crucial for Europe, Mr Buijink stressed that it must lead to applications. ‘Brilliant research should lead to brilliant products and services. This cannot be achieved without market drive and further cooperation between industry and academics,’ he argued.
Finally, asked what he regarded as the Dutch Presidency’s role in the area of ICT policy, Mr Buijink responded by describing his country’s stewardship of the EU as ‘a transition Presidency’. ‘We find ourselves in between Commissions and at the start of a new Parliament, so we have tried our utmost to find a good way of working in an enlarged Europe. [In the area of ICT] we have tried to set the scene and identify measures that will work for 25 or more countries,’ he concluded.
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