On June 21-22, the 2nd Digital Agenda Assembly discussed the current state of play in view of the forthcoming review of the Digital Agenda for Europe. It confirmed that there is still a lot of fragmentation in European society both regarding the level of ICT use, the skills to exploit the benefits of technology, and the types of technology utilised.
The Digital Agenda for Europe (see also EPHA’s briefing) is the European Union’s roadmap for bringing the benefits of a digital society and economy to Europe’s citizens. The main objectives of the Second Digital Agenda Assembly (DAA) were to:
Assess progress to date on implementation towards the Digital Agenda’s goals and actions and seek ways to improve delivery;
Identify challenges ahead for the implementation of the Digital Agenda and for the information society in general;
Mobilise stakeholders’ actions to make further progress and address challenges.
As last year, the DAA gathered citizens, representatives of Member States, and EU institutions. It included an online engagement space launched ahead of the event, eight workshops on key topics, and a plenary session at the European Parliament to provide feedback and debate the way forward.
At the plenary session, European Parliament Vice-President Alexander Alvaro MEP, ALDE/Germany pointed out that Europe performs satisfactorily in scientific innovation but it is not doing as well as it should when it comes to business models and creating an environment that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship. He stated that Europe needs to leverage the benefits of the Internal Market but it also has to effectively tackle the challenges of the new technology, like the issues related to intellectual property rights, secure payment methods, and e-democracy.
This was echoed by European Commission Vice-President and Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Nellie Kroes who stressed that Europe needs to remain competitive in the digital age by pursuing the Digital Agenda more vigorously, and particularly by tapping into the employment and growth potential that new technologies afford, especially for the young. She outlined the following priorities that she would like all stakeholders to work on:
1. Enabling cloud computing as a ’’single seamless space for digital information in the Internal Market’’
2. Improving Internet security
3. Providing fast broadband access for all
4. Supporting innovation and entrepreneurship
5. Using ICT to boost quality and efficiency of public services.
Commissioner Kroes stressed the need for more private investment, as well as for legal and regulatory certainty to achieve the above priorities. She reminded the audience that Europe will be judged in the future by the level of anticipation it displays in its decision making on the digital agenda and new technology in general. As it stands, 1 in 3 European households does still not have an internet connection, and 1 in 4 Europeans has never been online.
As EPHA has consistently pointed out (see also the EPHA Briefing on eHealth), such data suggests that Europe is increasingly becoming a two-tier society marked by financial and health inequalities, a fact that requires much more attention and that must be corrected. It also put into question the likelihood with which the Digital Agenda objectives can be achieved.
Other important topics covered during the interactive panel discussions included the need for specialised education to teach the necessary technical skills required to fill jobs in the innovation sector; the opportunities offered by Horizon 2020 to help deliver internet-based innovation as a way out of the crisis; and online empowerment of citizens and minority groups -including Roma communities and people living in the global South- through online activism and social media.
While new media has given various underrepresented groups and individuals the opportunity to share their problems and views, it is however also important to consider who is speaking and on behalf of whom, as well as the quality of the communication - are the loudest voices always ’’representative’’? And is the fact that a large amount of people can be reached through social media really a sign of ’’democratic empowerment’’ when they are clouded by so many other messages from competing sources? Is whatever is being said useful to others? And how do you distinguish between quality information and ’’noise’’?
All these questions will require further exploration in the future to avoid further fragmentation - and resulting inequalities - online and offline. As both Anna-Maria Darmanin, Vice-President of the EESC and Marietje Schaake MEP (Netherlands, ALDE) rightly pointed out, it is not just a matter of obtaining access to the internet but about using information effectively, and critically analysing one’s actions online.
For further information
EPHA related articles
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Digital Agenda Commissioner in favour of joint procurement to support cloud computing: will that benefit citizens?
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