A new report commissioned by the Dutch EU Presidency has called for an overhaul of Europe's information and communication technologies (ICT) policy, identifying ten 'breakthroughs' that could allow the EU to catch up with the world's leading ICT powers.
In a preface to the report, Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs Laurens Jan Brinkhorst states that, in recent years, Europe has achieved important results in the ICT sector by relatively modest means. However, the minister warns that: '[W]e will not attain our targets by merely continuing in these tracks. The burst of the IT-bubble, the new Member States, new technological possibilities and the rise of competing powers from Asia to America, - they all require a fresh look at our targets and the ways to achieve them.'
Mr Brinkhorst describes the report, which was produced by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, as 'tentative and provocative'. He says that it is designed to inspire people to rethink and revitalise the Lisbon agenda, and in particular the European ICT agenda.
Continues Mr Brinkhorst: 'The time is right to enter a new phase in the integration of ICT in our economy and society. From the period of roll out and installation of ICT infrastructures and applications we are moving to the phase of deployment [...]. Today we are better connected than ever. But how can we use these connections to reach our goals?'
To offer some guidance, the report includes an analysis of several 'reference countries' whose recent performance in many areas of ICT has surpassed that of the EU - the US, Japan, India, China and South Korea. These countries have become leaders 'both on the supply side [...] and on the demand side [...], assisted by a clear ICT policy that addresses breakthroughs on key differentiators in each country and combines vision with the courage to make choices and commitment to execute,' states the report.
The Indian government, for example, has taken major policy steps towards constructing an ICT industry with a focus on development of software for export. The South Korean government has doubled its ICT spending, set up a low interest fund for investment in broadband networks, and developed a scheme to support software export. The US, meanwhile, provides government support for the ICT sector through large defence contracts.
'These countries have bold initiatives and dare to improve their position in the field of ICT with proactive industrial policies,' states the report, before arguing that 'Europe too can be successful. Present policies are very useful but not instrumental enough to enable Europe to catch up with other economic powers. We have to reconsider the present policies to identify the issues that are obstructing further progress and consider further the breakthroughs that could be achieved.'
The PricewaterhouseCoopers analysts present ten such breakthroughs that they feel could help the EU to seize the initiative and gain ground on its competitors. One suggestion is for an improvement in the standardisation of ICT environments in Europe to trigger and enable new business. 'Pan-European interoperable solutions for electronic authentication and electronic payments are needed to boost innovation and economic growth significantly,' asserts the report.
A second potential breakthrough relates to what the report calls probably the most debated of all ICT related issues - the migration or 'off-shoring' of ICT jobs to low-wage countries. Such a trend cannot and should not be stopped, states the report, but it is important for Europe to jointly formulate a strategy in this area to ensure that job losses are not caused by unnecessary shortcomings in the European labour market and, most importantly, to create new jobs, which requires investment in research, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Other breakthroughs highlighted in the report include a reorientation of e-business and e-government policy, from connectivity to the take up of complex ICT applications, the pursuit of global platform leadership in the ICT industry, and the identification of real solutions for consumer confidence and security.
Taking such steps is a matter of urgency: 'There is no time to lose. If the EU is serious about reaching the Lisbon goals set for 2010 it needs structural changes. With middle of the road policies nobody, including Europe, will be able to take a leading position. The results achieved by other countries over the last ten years show that it pays off to make choices and to invest in the future of ICT. Europe will not see results without changes and investments,' warns the report.
Mr Brinkhorst hopes that the report will spark discussions about the Lisbon strategy and the future of the European ICT agenda: 'I look forward to the discussions that will be ignited by this report and surely hope you will be among the participants,' he tells its readers.