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Kroes uses swansong speech to warn of European digital divide

Neelie Kroes

Neelie Kroes

In her last speech as EC vice-president responsible for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes has warned against the persistence of a Europe-wide digital divide that could hold the continent’s economy back. 

“I am very worried that Europe is missing large parts of the digital opportunity. I am worried that Europe will continue to stagnate, that we will let look at success stories but let them pass by,” said Kroes.

While noting the progress made in getting Europeans online, Kroes compared Europe’s innovation record unfavourably with the US and emerging economies in Asia. She also pointed out that European states’ progress in driving broadband penetration was uneven, with the likes of Germany and Italy lagging behind Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands.

“We have a problem today of two Europes: a digital Europe and an analogue Europe. Of digital mind-sets and analogue mind-sets,” she said. “These are two Europes that rarely talk to each other. Two Europes that hold back all of Europe because they are not in sync.”

Kroes said half of new jobs were emerging from the ICT sector and it was vitally important for Europe to eliminate barriers to growth. She also condemned short-termism on the part of political and industry leaders. “If our conversations are about the next year instead of the next generation, we will fail. If our conversations are always about how other people need to change to make our lives easier, we will fail. If our conversations ignore the grassroots efforts of our young digital talents, in favour of carving up markets amongst old companies, we will fail,” she warned.

Kroes praised EC president Jean-Claude Juncker’s call for a €300 billion investment programme in infrastructure, but called for digital to be placed at the centre of it. “Can you really imagine such an investment that puts digital in the middle or bottom of the priority list? That would be simply crazy,” she said.