by EC Directorate-General Information Society
At the beginning of the 21st century, the potential for information society technologies (IST) to enhance human lives has never been greater. For the economy, IST is central to the “race to knowledge” on which improved productivity and competitiveness depend. The IST industry itself is one of the largest economic sectors, while IST innovations underpin growth in many other markets. In public services, IST enables services to be delivered more efficiently, as well as new services that correspond to people’s evolving needs. And for society at large, IST improves citizens’ quality of life, by offering goods and services that did not exist previously or by improving access to those already available.
IST may also play a vital role in helping Europe to tackle the new challenges we see emerging. With enlargement, the number of EU citizens will almost double over the next five years. The EU will have to accommodate, and turn into assets, the further social, economic, cultural and religious diversity this brings. It also has to address the “productivity challenge”: how to create wealth and prosperity in an enlarged Europe. European businesses should be able to take full advantage of technology development, mainly in IST, to adapt and benefit from the emerging networked business environment. Europe needs to improve its competitiveness and develop higher value products and services whilst ensuring a sustainable future. After recent events, security issues remain high on the political agenda and in citizens’ concerns. Also, with the aging pyramid set to be reversed by around 2010, we have to come to terms with our “greying” population and its implications for the economy, and society as a whole.
Against this background, in Lisbon in 2000 the EU gave itself ten years to become the world’s most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy, addressing simultaneously three objectives: competitiveness, employment and social cohesion. In Barcelona last year, one of the tools needed to achieve this was clearly delineated – to boost European research spending to 3% of GDP by 2010.
Three Pillars for the Information Society
The European Union’s policy for the information society is at the heart of the Lisbon strategy. Its goal is to enable Europe to take full advantage of IST and to contribute to their progress within an inclusive, knowledge society for all. Information society policy is based on three interlinked pillars.
Firstly, it supports policies for the wider deployment and adoption of IST products and services. Over recent years efforts here have focused on eEurope, as well as the direct support to deployment initiatives such as eContent and eTEN. Community actions under the eEurope 2002 Action Plan have enabled a high and rapid growth in internet connectivity in Europe. In 2002, more than 90% of schools and businesses were already online and more than half of Europeans were regular users. Many more government services are available online and European researchers now benefit from the world’s fastest research network. Building on these achievements, the eEurope 2005 Action Plan targets further measures to stimulate services, applications and content.
The second pillar is a new regulatory framework covering all services or networks that transmit communications electronically, which became applicable from 25 July 2003. This aims to develop and reinforce the single market, by promoting competition and safeguarding public and user interests across the communications sector. In e-commerce, the series of directives adopted are providing a more secure environment for e-commerce transactions, in particular cross-border trade, and ensuring an adequate level of consumer protection.
Research and development in IST, so as to ensure the mastering of technology and its applications, is the third pillar. Research supported at Community level has been instrumental in establishing and maintaining industrial and technology leadership in key fields such as mobile communications microelectronics, microsystems and consumer electronics. Europe has been, and remains, most successful in those areas where industry and the research community have built strong RTD collaborations at a European level, and where the research effort has been well articulated with deployment and regulatory initiatives.
Such joined-up thinking is needed now more than ever. Today, a new generation of IST is emerging driven by the convergence of computing, communications and knowledge technologies. This next wave of technologies will open the door to new devices and systems that will enable people and objects (artefacts) to interact in totally new ways. It will spawn new applications and services that will help build an all-inclusive knowledge society and economy. A sustained effort in IST research, linked to parallel efforts on deployment and regulation, is essential to ensure European leadership in these technologies and to enable all Europe’s citizens and enterprises to benefit from their development.
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