Pilar del Castillo, MEP and EIF Chair, gave the opening remarks at the EIF-hosted reception on the eve of the Digital Agenda Assembly.
She noted that this year the plenary session of the Digital Assembly takes place during the hemicycle of the European Parliament. This, she concluded, is not random but rather highlights the strong partnership between the European Commission and the Parliament on the issues raised by the Digital Agenda. "Where are we now", she asked, "and are we moving at the right speed?" She cited recent statistics about the growth of the mobile data market, noting that by 2016 the number of mobile subscribers is estimated to reach nine billion. In this context, she observed, it's easy to imagine how important ultrafast network backbones, more suitable spectrum policy and technological innovation will become. She drew everyone's attention to the the recent surveys conducted by EIF and Ajit Jaokar (of the Policy Bloggers Network) and with that she turned the floor over to European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes.
VP Neelie Kroes observed that Europe today is facing a number of pressures: the need to provide jobs for young people, care for an aging populations, and to manage this under the constraints of rising energy costs and climate change. ICT, she asserted, can provide the jobs, citing a predicted demand for 700,000 more skilled ICT workers by 2015. She compared Europe's capital investment in ICT to that of the United States, Japan, and South Korea. "The single market", she said, "is the crown jewel of Europe. It needs to become an online single market." She touted the success of legislative caps on mobile roaming costs and urged bringing down further barriers by implementing a coordinated spectrum policy and instituting reforms of copyright and licensing regimes. Commissioner Kroes went on to list her top priorities: enhancing the European market for cloud computing, keeping the internet secure and open, delivering fast broadband for all, encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship, and boosting the efficiency of public services through better use of ICT. In closing, she pointed at the collection of dinosaur bones just down the hall and said, "You all know what happens when you fail to adapt. Let's not hide from new realities but let's make the right decisions and work together for future generations."
Next up was James Elles, MEP and EIF Co-Founder. In his brief remarks he stressed the importance of universal access. He challenged the Commission to rethink it's financial perspectives and to consider revising its proposal to allow for the digitalization of structural funds. He observed that nominal broadband speeds in South Korea are 100Mbps and suggested that the broadband targets in the Digital Agenda should be revised upwards to reflect that.
Alexander Alvaro, European Parliament Vice-President and EIF Governor, followed, congratulating VP Kroes on her Digital Agenda and noting how coherent he finds it from a policymaking perspective. He spoke to the challenge of digital illiteracy and the need to close the digital divide. Alvaro promised to work together with James Elles on the budget committee to ensure more R&D investments are made. He closed with this bon mot: "As Europeans, we don't have oil, we don't have gas - our most valuable resource is what's in our heads."
Malcolm Harbour, MEP and EIF Governor, observed that in October 2012 will be the twentieth anniversary of the Single Market Act and suggested it's time to update that act to address the challenges of the digital era. He cited consumer confidence as one of the principal challenges. Consumers, he proposed, are not so much worried about their data being stolen as they are whether the product they order will be delivered on time, in good condition, and what their recourse against the vendor is in case of complaints. Harbour commented on the disappointing uptake in government and social services, noting that while government should be leading the way embracing ICT the conservative procurement procedures are a major obstacle to that. He conceded that these two issues are tangential to the Digital Agenda but urged that they be given proper attention.
Closing out the evening's speeches was Marietje Schaake, MEP and EIF Governor. She reflected on world events over the previous year, where in such places as Iran, China, Syria, and South Sudan the internet freedom has come under increasingly heavy attack. Schaake applauded Commissioner Kroes' No Disconnect Strategy, saying that from her perspective it was one of the greatest successes of the Digital Agenda.See event