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'Digital Agenda for Europe' foresees higher investment in R&D

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The European Commission unveiled its new 'Digital Agenda for Europe' on 19 May. Among other things, the agenda focuses on more investment in research and development (R&D) and the use of information and communication technology (ICT) to address challenges facing society like climate change and the ageing population. The Digital Agenda figures among seven flagship initiatives under the Europe 2020 strategy that was launched in March 2010.

'The objective of this Agenda is to chart a course to maximise the social and economic potential of ICT, most notably the Internet, a vital medium of economic and societal activity for doing business, working, playing, communicating and expressing ourselves freely. Successful delivery of this Agenda will spur innovation,' the Commission communication reads.

'We must put the interests of Europe's citizens and businesses at the forefront of the digital revolution and so maximise the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to advance job creation, sustainability and social inclusion,' said Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes. 'The ambitious strategy set out today shows clearly where we need to focus our efforts in the years to come. To fully realise the potential of Europe's digital future we need the full commitment of Member States, the ICT sector and other vital economic partners.'

Under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), a total of EUR 9.1 billion has been earmarked for funding ICT research. It is thus the largest research theme in the Cooperation programme, which is itself the largest specific programme with 64% of the total budget. However, the EU still lags behind the US' R&D investment levels: in 2007, the EU invested EUR 37 billion, while the US set aside EUR 88 billion. This is why the Agenda stresses that 'Europe must invest more in R&D and ensure our best ideas reach the market'.

The Agenda highlights three problems that cause the investment gap: a weak and dispersed public R&D effort; market fragmentation and dispersion; and slow uptake of ICT-based innovations. In order to address these issues, 'Europe must step up, focus and pool its investments to keep its competitive edge in this field and continue to invest in high-risk research including multi-disciplinary fundamental research.'

More specifically, the key actions the Commission is planning to concentrate on are the following:
- leverage more private investment;
- reinforce the coordination and pooling of resources with Member States and industry;
- propose measures for 'light and fast' access to EU research funds in ICT;
- ensure sufficient financial support to joint ICT research infrastructures and innovation clusters;
- develop a new generation of web-based applications and services in cooperation with stakeholders.

In addition, the Member States should double annual total public spending on ICT R&D from EUR 5.5 billion to EUR 11 billion by 2020, and engage in large-scale pilot projects to test and develop innovative and interoperable solutions in areas of public interest.

ICTs, however, are not ends in themselves. 'Smart use of technology and exploitation of information will help us address the challenges facing society like climate change and the ageing population,' the Agenda stresses. This applies to ICTs helping to save energy and resources, sustainable healthcare and ICT-based support for dignified and independent living, promoting cultural diversity and creative content, e-government and intelligent transport systems for efficient transport and better mobility.

'The digital society must be envisioned as a society with better outcomes for all,' the Agenda reads. 'The deployment of ICT is becoming a critical element for delivering policy objectives.'

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Source: Community R&D Information Service (CORDIS)

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