Brussels, 01 Oct 2004
'I will be the commissioner for innovation, inclusion and creativity,' said the Commissioner designate for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding, at her hearing before the Industry, Research and Energy and Culture and Education Committees of the European Parliament on 29 September.
Explaining that addressing inequality of access to information technology - the so called digital divide - was one of her main priorities, Mrs Reding stressed that reducing the European information technology gap will enable the EU to open up markets and bring people closer together.
'Innovation must act as the driving force in the Lisbon process; inclusion will combat the digital divide and strengthen European identity and its cultural diversity, by means of media pluralism that will provide free expression for creativity,' Mrs Reding said at the hearing.
The Commissioner deplored the fact that although an increasing number of Europeans have access to fast Internet connections, the infrastructure remained underused. 'Broadband is available on 80 per cent of the European network but has been taken up by only seven per cent of users,' she pointed out.
'This discrepancy,' she explained 'can be ascribed to lack of interest, as users do not see why they should use broadband in the absence of services to encourage its use.'
Mrs Reding then encouraged small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to 'be open to new information technology and promote research, otherwise they run the risk of losing out to other world players.'
Greater openness to information technologies is the key to conquering new markets, said Mrs Reding, citing the GSM standard for mobile phones as an example of how the EU has been able to stimulate growth by facilitating the setting up of technological standards. 'How many Europeans know that GSM is the culmination of research projects financed by the European Union budget?' she asked.
According to Mrs Reding, Europe must now turn to third-generation mobile telephony: 'We have strong 3G operators and it would be unthinkable for Europe not to benefit from the development of this new standard.'
Mrs Reding then pledged to fight the social divide, which develops when demand is curbed by high prices or the inaccessibility of information technology tools, and tends to disadvantage groups such as the elderly and the disabled.
'We can fight this by demystifying new technology, which will bring these groups out of their isolation and offer them services such as distance medical consultation. This is of vital importance in an ageing Europe,' concluded the Commissioner.