Action must be taken to reduce the 'digital divide,' say ministers

April 30, 2002

Brussels, 29 April 2002

Government, the private sector and civil society must cooperate in the development and implementation of e-strategies in order to reduce the threat of a 'digital divide' opening up between technology 'haves' and 'have-nots', concluded participants at an EU, Latin America and Caribbean ministerial meeting on the information society in Seville, Spain, from 26 to April.

The ministers concluded that action must be taken to reduce the threat posed to social cohesion by the creation of a divide between countries, regions and communities with and without access to new technologies.

'The participants believe that the full potential of the information society will not exist while a digital divide persists between those who have and those who do not have access to information and communication technologies. For this reason, they agree to pursue as a common objective the establishment of a democratic and inclusive information society,' says the Seville statement.

Participants emphasised the potential benefits of progress in information and communication technologies (ICT), including the emergence of new information resources, the acceleration of trade and improved public sector transparency.

Addressing the meeting, Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen said information technologies have a key role to play in improving human rights and ensuring democratic transparency. 'Access to ICTs is crucial in keeping citizens informed on laws and rights and is thereby a step along the road to ensuring good governance and human rights. This in turn creates the basis for social and economic stability,' he said.

Mr Liikanen also said that the technologies should be seen as 'a tool, not a reward of development,' as they can help to reduce social and economic inequalities and support sustainable wealth creation.

But he emphasised that 'without an adapted public policy, new technologies can become a new source of exclusion, not a tool of progress.'

The statement from the ministerial meeting also emphasises the importance of a coordinated policy approach, calling for cooperation between the government, the private sector and civil society in the elaboration and application of e-strategies. These strategies should include the establishment of a stable legal and regulatory framework for investment, competition and innovation and the development of infrastructures and services to bring the benefits of the information society to all citizens.

The participants also welcomed the launch of the European Commission's @LIS (Alliance for the information society) cooperative project between the EU, Latin America and the Caribbean. The initiative will help create open dialogue on e-strategies whilst supporting policy development and the development of regulatory frameworks and boosting cooperation, said the ministers.

The participants also agreed that the World Summit on the information society, planned for December 2003, will help contribute to a common view of the future and better coordination of activities. Interest was expressed in holding a follow up meeting on the @LIS initiative in two years time in order to evaluate the direction of the project and take into account the outcome of the 2003 World Summit.

The statement concluded with an invitation to the Spanish Minister for science and technology, Anna Birulés, to submit the declaration to the Madrid Summit of May 2002.

For further information on @LIS, please consult the following web address: y/international/latin/alis/index_en.htm

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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