Summit opening speech by Constantijn Van Oranje-Nassau: 'Getting every European Digital!!!'

As a keynote speaker, Constantijn Van Oranje-Nassau, Senior Advisor Cabinet Kroes at the European Commission gave the following opening speech at Telecentre-Europe's Summit in Brussels (27-28 October, 2011):


'Getting every European Digital!!!'

When Neelie invented the slogan it was primarily because she wanted to signal that the

DAE is about people and that is concerns all of Europe.

With ICT we have to continuously remind ourselves that it is not the technology that counts but how people use it and how it improves their lives. The greatest technology will not be used – at least not in  mass market applications – if it does not appeal to consumers and deliver real value.

No one understood this better than Steve Jobs, who went even further. Not only did his products have great appeal, they provided near intuitive access to internet and communication services. Even non-users are attracted to his products. His interfaces open the digital world instead of acting as gatekeepers that scare people off. Others are following suit, which means that now we have an opportunity to get many more people online as the technical entry barriers have come down considerably.

Obviously, many more barriers still exist; there are financial barriers; ethical and cultural concerns. Issues that Telecentres deal with on a daily basis.  Also access is not obvious to people with handicaps like the blind or people with poor reading and writing skills; keeping people from fully benefiting from the Digital Society.  Moreover, technology is becoming so pervasive that the costs of not being connected has considerably increased.

Therefore raising awareness of the opportunities  of ‘going digital’ is crucial.  This is where the Telecentres play an essential role. People simply do not know what ICT can do for them and how simple it is to use. On the other hand suppliers don’t understand the concerns of these potential customers to find then and serve them well.

You are the essential intermediary and you perform this public function in a way governments often can not. You have been innovators that have harnessed the expertise and dedication of a wide range of people and organisations that truly make a difference. You are in the neighbourhoods and speak with the people that are most concerned. You know their anxieties but also what is in it for them. At the same time you have shown immense resourcefulness and innovation to make an impact under often difficult circumstances.

This is why Telecentres Europe is such a valuable partner for the Commission, which we are grateful to endorse through our patronage.    

Together we need to capitalise on the positive momentum created by the DAE and a number of successful national and European Get Online initiatives. In fact it is amazing what is going on already. We of course know Get on line week and the UK rush online; but in Poland there are Digital Campions; eSeniors reside in Lithuania; Romanians have their biblionet and eCentres, In the Netherland people are made Digivaardig/Digibewust; in Ireland there is BeneFit; Danes network and learn about ICT; where Swedes are brought online through Digidel.  Just to name a few.

Now is the time to make a real push to reach the 27% of Europeans that are not yet on line and to upgrade the skills of those not fully benefitting from the digital developments... particularly among the weakest in society. The vulnerable youth groups, elderly, migrants, unemployed, handicapped.

Now is the time to invest further in upskilling to deliver the ICT expertise that our economies need.

Now is the time to do what Apple did for devices and apply it to our policies and online services, addressing real needs with quality services. Instead of pushing people online, allowing the attractiveness of the online offer to pull people towards using eServices; like the ATM did and online banking.

  • Why?? Examples galore: Learning, efficient government, independent living, managing energy use, etc…
  • Why? Because it makes perfect business sense: In the UK, since April 2010 1.04 million government transactions shifted online, due to the 630.000 people that UK online centres managed to move online; leading to £96mil savings. Total saving of the get online programme has been over £2.5Bn p/a
  • Why? Because the smartest cities and societies need the smartest people, that are well equipped to work, live, participate and learn in the Digitising world.
  • Why, with 90% of jobs soon requiring some level of digital literacy we simply cannot afford large numbers of people being excluded; we do not want old divides to deepen and new ones to emerge.  
  • Why? Because our society is ageing and only 15% of people above 65 use the internet in Europe.  Patients and elderly will not be able to retain control over their lives, without digital skills. Also our carers – family and professionals - will not cope with increasing demand for care and growing ICT investments. 

With so much at stake it is justified to ask what the Commission will do about the digital skills challenge. Our limited mandate should not stop us from being ambitious if we can work with European partners like Telecentres, ECDL, and local initiatives.

  • The Commission will urge MS governments to identify digital champions, to ensure a better exchange of practices about successful national and local initiatives and to get active involvement in EU online week.
  • With your help we will call on MS to adopt comprehensive long term digital literacy policies to mainstream eLearning in life long learning and education and ensure that digital exclusion is addressed in an integrated way, along with other vital inclusion policies.
  • We call on all of you to deliver hard figures on impacts on the number of people you reached in your programmes, the savings generated and the opportunities created. We need to evidence to make the hard business case for investing in digital literacy and eSkills.
  • The Commission is working hard on accessibility regulation, to ensure the use of accessibility  standards in web design
  • We are endeavouring to improve the certification of eSkills
  • Finally, in Gdansk Neelie launched the eInclusion Digital empowerment awards which will be handed out at the 2012 Digital Assembly. This can be a meeting point for creating a network of European digital champions and their campaigns.

We look with great interest at the eInclusion Roadmap, and take many lessons from it. It shows how many good initiatives are being implemented and we’ll review ways to facilitate peer learning and replication elsewhere in Europe.

What is most exciting is that government is often not in the lead. Vital communities are helping each other through peer mentoring and support solutions. You bottom up civil society actions are driving social innovations, often on the back of open data applications. Therefore the roadmap should not be used by governments alone but be a working document for all parties involved in digital inclusion and literacy strategies.

In closing I would like to wish you a very successful conference and look forward to cooperating with you in getting 'Every European Digital'.  

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