EU nations to present their digital plans for peer review

6 May 2010

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As part of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda to be unveiled in the coming weeks, all 27 member states will take part in an ongoing peer review of their various digital strategies, the Chef de Cabinet to Vice-President of the European Commission with responsibility for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, told Siliconrepublic.com.

Irishman Anthony Whelan is the man responsible for assisting Commissioner Neelie Kroes in her mission to address supply and demand for digital services, products and content, and keep Europe at the technological forefront in this area.

Whelan, the lawyer who spearheaded the European Commission’s high-profile legal battle against Microsoft that resulted in a €497m fine against the company over how it bundled Internet Explorer in Windows, said the key is to ensure no nation gets left behind.

In the US, one of President Barack Obama’s first actions on election was to install a digital advisory group and the US digital strategy is due to be unveiled soon. In the UK , the Digital Britain Act was enshrined into law in recent weeks as part of a strategy to create 1 million new digital jobs in the next 10 years.

However, the patchwork of 27 EU member states are at different stages of digital development and many – including Ireland – have yet to articulate a national digital development plan.

Work on digital programme

“We will be setting out a whole range of areas where more work needs to be done,” Whelan explained. “This does not mean that we will be imposing a one-size-fits-all, but what we will be doing is asking individual members states to devise a digital programme consistent with the European digital agenda and report back at a European level on progress on obstacles. These countries will be part of a peer-review mechanism at a European level.

“Whether this means every member state adopts a grand ‘Digital Ireland’, ‘Digital Britain’ or ‘Digital France’ plan or whether it is done in a more homogeneous way, the key thing is that each member state has a plan and works out its internal mechanisms to feed into the European process.

“The peer-review system allows for a good deal of transparency on what countries are forging ahead and what countries aren’t. It is not about creating a naming and shaming exercise but is designed so people can see what is possible.”

Whelan said across the 27 member states there are vast differences, with many countries cash strapped while others are bounding ahead with investments in fibre infrastructure.

“Each country brings their own particular history and situation to it. But they would all share the view that through enhanced digital networks, e-skills for their workforces, more basic digital literacy for the whole population and better e-government services, the general prosperity and well-being of their country can certainly get a boost.”

Nations that are powering ahead include countries in central and eastern Europe which are aggressively rolling out fibre, and Scandinavian countries with a rich heritage of innovation through companies such as Nokia and Ericsson. Estonia, he said, which gave the world Skype, is 100pc broadband-enabled and is a hotbed for software development.

“There are good examples of countries that are able to get the policy mix right to transform the way their economies have been built. Ireland has been the home for transatlantic investors who came originally for low-cost manufacturing but are now investing in high-level R&D centres. We have a lot going for us,” Whelan said.

By John Kennedy

DIGITISE THE NATION

Irish Internet Association Annual Congress

Anthony Whelan will be a keynote speaker at the IIA Congress in Dublin on 20 May at the Crowne Plaza, Dublin Northwood. He will be joined by Bill Liao, the founder of European social network for businesses, Xing, and technology critic Bill Thompson. For further information or to book, go to the website.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com