The Digital Agenda for Europe was adopted in 2010. Francisco García Morán, Director General for Informatics at the European Commission, explains how the strategy was developed and sheds light on its future.
What are the objectives of the Digital Agenda for Europe?
“The European Commission adopted the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) in May 2010 as a strategy to take advantage of the potential offered by the rapid progress of digital technologies. The DAE is part of the overall Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and comprises 101 specific policy actions (78 actions to be taken by the Commission, including 31 legal proposals and 23 actions proposed to the Member States) intended to stimulate a virtuous circle of investment in and usage of digital technologies. To monitor progress, we have set 13 key performance targets, we have taken stock every year and we have published the results on the DAE scoreboard.”
What have been the main achievements since then?
“Our last measurement was in 2011, and the picture at that moment was that progress in achieving the key performance targets had been promising but mixed. On the positive side, regular Internet usage has risen rapidly, including among disadvantaged groups, as has sporadic use, leaving fewer and fewer non-users. Citizens use eGovernment more and more, including interactively, and are rapidly taking to buying online, as are SMEs. Basic broadband is increasingly available, even in the remotest corners. Finally, the market share of LED lighting is expanding swiftly. In all these areas, the targets will be met early if current trends persist.
On a couple of other targets, progress is insufficient, albeit real. Citizens’ uptake of cross-border eCommerce is barely growing. SMEs are only gradually starting to sell online. Access and subscriptions to very high-speed broadband remain concentrated in a few places for the moment. Roaming prices have fallen, but only slowly. And public investment in R&D has not risen. In all these areas, the targets will not be met if current trends persist.”
Trust and security are two important areas for the DAE. What is being done there?
“The growing use of IT increases our need for trust and security in it. It is estimated that half of Internet users have refrained from at least some major online activities due to security concerns. Therefore, trust and security is a key area for the Digital agenda. Identifying and fighting cybercrime is one of our top priorities, as is enforcing the right to privacy and to the protection of personal data – fundamental rights in the EU.
Member States are best placed to protect their own infrastructures, but we are currently concentrating much of our effort on critical infrastructure protection and on strengthening the CERT community in Europe. We are also working with the public and private sectors to properly secure new technologies and business models, such as those arising from the adoption of cloud computing. I would also like to mention the role of ENISA, the European Network and Information Security Agency, in preventing, detecting and responding to network and information security problems.”
One of the DAE’s projects is the eGovernment Action Plan. What are the objectives in that field?
“The eGovernment Action Plan 2011-2015 is helping public authorities to use information and communication technologies to offer better services at a lower cost, while making life easier and better for individual citizens and businesses in terms of improved access to public services. It is supporting the transition to a new generation of open, flexible and seamless egovernment services at local, regional, national and EU levels, where users can actively shape the online public services that suit their needs best.
Our goal is to increase the use of egovernment services to 50% of EU citizens and 80% of EU businesses by 2015 and to ensure that a number of key public services are available online so that entrepreneurs can set up and run a business from anywhere within the EU independently of their original location and so that citizens can more easily study, work, reside and retire anywhere within the EU. National governments will play a central role in the implementation of the Action Plan whilst the Commission’s main responsibility is to improve the conditions for the development of cross-border egovernment services. The Action Plan builds on the Malmö Ministerial Declaration and contains measures grouped into four categories: empowering users, contributing to the internal market, enabling the effectiveness and efficiency of governments, and putting in place pre-conditions for developing egovernment, such as eSignatures and eIdentification.
Concrete examples of Action Plan measures include implementing once-only secure registration of data with government and developing the EU-wide use of national electronic identities (‘eID’) to smooth cross-border procedures, such as starting a company abroad, moving home or work abroad, arranging your pension online if you retire to another country, or registering at a foreign school or university.”
What are the Commission’s priorities and projects for the coming years?
“Our goal is to create the necessary conditions to ensure long-term prosperity and growth in Europe. The Europe 2020 strategy and the Digital Agenda for Europe contain the framework we think is needed to ensure smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Just to give you an example, the Commission has recently proposed the ‘Connecting Europe Facility’ (CEF), which plans to fund 50 billion euros worth of investment to improve Europe’s transport, energy and digital networks. Targeted investments in key infrastructures will help to create jobs and boost Europe’s competitiveness at a time when Europe needs this most. Of the 50 billion euros, it foresees that almost 9.2 billion euros will go into supporting investment in fast and very fast broadband networks and pan-European digital services, leveraging other private and public investments as well.
In the area of digital infrastructure, our target for 2020 is that all broadband access will be at speeds of at least 30 Mbps with at least 50% of households subscribing to speeds above 100 Mbps. As regards to digital services, the money would be used for grants to build infrastructure needed to roll out eID, eProcurement, electronic health care records, eJustice and customs-related services. The money would serve to ensure interoperability and meet the costs of running the infrastructure at European level, linking up Member States’ infrastructures. And, internally, we are working on an ambitious egovernment initiative, called eCommission 2012-2015, with which we want to lead by example in the transformation of European public services.”