With Europe's debt crisis top-of-mind for many delegates to the World Congress on Information Technology opening in Amsterdam Tuesday, European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes painted the EC's Digital Agenda five-year plan as key to an economic recovery and the region's long-term fiscal health.
"The aging lady Europe can't afford to hold back" on the actions laid out in the agenda, Kroes said in her keynote address. The region's challenges -- massive pension liabilities, the need to reduce carbon emissions without harming economies, and more -- cannot be met without ICT (information and communication technologies), she said.
Kroes has now taken on the portfolio of commissioner for Digital Agenda, which, she argued, makes her commissioner for growth.
The Digital Agenda for Europe is a comprehensive action plan that will improve competitiveness and empower people, Kroes said.
The current economic crisis has wiped out years of economic and social progress, she said, and exposed structural weakness in Europe's economy.
"Without proper use of ICT over the next decade, Europe will become a broken economy. It could unravel into a series of broken societies," Kroes said. Europe is behind the U.S. in technology, while emerging markets threaten to overtake it.
None of this will change as long as broadband is significantly slower in Europe, and its only digital single market is illegal, she said. The Commission must act to make the single digital market legal by tackling the borders thrown up by different copyright and other laws in individual European countries.
More broadly, Europe needs the increase in productivity and resource efficiency that ICT offers, as its workforce ages into retirement and energy is wasted through inefficient, "dumb" power grids, Kroes said.
Intel CEO Paul Otellini followed Kroes on the WCIT stage and used the forum to announce that the company is extending its online business plan contest, the Intel Challenge, to entrepreneurs in the U.K., France and Germany. No further details were immediately available.