EU states failing to drive IT

Member countries have been warned that their digital economic growth is being outstripped by the US, China and Japan

The European Commission (EC) has heavily criticised European Union (EU) member states for failing to implement ICT initiatives quickly enough, and for falling behind global competition.

The EC urged European governments on Friday to step up their ICT programmes to be able to compete globally, and called for greater "policy convergence" to combine regulatory instruments with the promotion of pan-European research and development schemes.

In a report, the EC lambasted policymakers for not having a stronger sense of urgency in implementing ICT reforms.

"The contribution of ICT to productivity has decreased significantly compared to the second half of the 1990s, and is still approximately half that in the US," said the report.

While ICT continued to contribute to above-average productivity gains compared with other sectors -- it generated at least 45 percent of EU productivity gains from 2000 to 2004 -- member states are still not investing enough to be able to compete with the US and Asian economies. The contribution of ICT is not enough to improve the EU’s global position, the Commission said.

"Overall no indicator points to a change in the trend or an acceleration in ICT developments which would put the EU onto a sustainable path of growth and competitiveness," said the EC in its first annual progress report on i2010, its digital economy strategy for growth and jobs.

The US has consistently invested almost twice as much as the EU in ICT since 2000, the EC said. China has become the biggest exporter of ICT goods, overtaking Japan and the EU in 2003 and the US in 2004.

"Europe's policies for the digital economy have made some progress, but I do not think that this is good enough," said Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for information society and media.

"While we see first good results of the EU's policy to promote competition and investment in the telecom markets, it is worrying that in ICT research, Europe continues to lag behind its competitors."

The commissioner called for stronger investment in ICT research and more effective cross-border competition, especially in telecommunications.

Member states were warned they need to step up efforts to improve access to broadband internet connections, facilitate EU-wide circulation of digital content, free up radio spectrum for new applications, integrate research and innovation and modernise public services.