How Europe's Digital Agenda Is Progressing

The Commission is on track to complete 95 of its 101 targets by 2015. Here is an overview of the good and the bad.

The Digital Agenda is part of the 2020 reform, which is a 10-year strategy proposed by the European Commission for advancement of the economy of the European Union. It wants “smart, sustainable, inclusive growth” with greater coordination of national and European policy. It is actually the next step of the Lisbon Strategy.

The Digital Agenda is a flagship initiative that is part of the 2020 project. Together with Innovation Union and Youth On The Move it is part of the Smart Growth pillar. The commissioner in charge of the Digital Agenda, and thus the internet, is Neelie Kroes.

The Commission published a press release on May 28 (2014) to give an update on where the project stands. The project is four year underway so we are nearly at half time. Let's see how the EU is progressing.

As always, there is good news and there are some remaining challenges.

Here is the good news.

Regular Internet use up

The number of people who use the Internet at least once per week has increased from 60% to 72% since 2010. The most improved countries are Greece, Romania, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Croatia.

The best performers, with over 90% of the population using internet, are Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Big progress among disadvantaged groups

Internet usage by unemployed people, low educated and older groups, is up to 57% from 41% four years ago. On current trends the target of 60% will be reached before 2015.

Non-users are down a third

Only 20% of people living in the EU have never used the Internet. That number is down a third since four years ago. If the current trends persist, the DAE target to get the number down to 15% by 2015 will be met.

Online shopping is booming

47% of EU citizens are now shopping online. That number is up 10 points and it means that the target of 50% by 2015 is likely to be achieved.

Everybody has access to the internet

100% of Europeans now have access to broadband. This often includes several options like fibre, cable, ADSL or 3G/4G mobile access. And most Europeans now have affordable access to satellite broadband as a minimum.

Fast broadband technologies: 4G mobile broadband availability increased sharply to 59%, up from 26% a year ago. Fixed lined internet of at least 30 Mbps is available to 62% of EU population, up from 54% a year ago and 29% in 2010. Fast broadband is already available to 90% of homes or more in Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and UK.

Most Europeans now live digital lives and they are hungry for more. We have solved the internet access problem. But the digital skills gap persists. Unless we all do more, we will face a digitally illiterate underclass in Europe.
— Neelie Kroes

That was the good news. However, there are also challenges that the EU is facing. In the next year the commission will put extra emphases on the following problems.

Small businesses are missing out

Only 14% of businesses with under 250 employees are selling their products online. Across the EU, not one country comes close to achieving the EU average target of 33% by 2015.

Europe’s rural areas at risk

The rural areas are offline. Only 18% of rural households have access to high-speed broadband. This number has to go up quickly before it becomes a problem.

eGovernment services in 2013 stagnated

These services were used by only 42% of the EU population. Continuing at this rate will not see Member States achieve the target of 50% by 2015.

Kroes worries about a digital illiterate underclass. But by 2015 more than 60% of disadvantaged groups will be using the internet. Sure, it is important to keep these numbers growing and it is still far from 100%. But we are only four years underway. If the EU keeps working the way it is now all targets should be reached by 2020.

Europeans like to complain about the `lack' of progress the union is making. The startup scene is eagerly waiting for the first European Google or Facebook. OK, the continent has not delivered such companies yet, but if we look at the overall development of the union it is fair to say that our flagship tech companies are coming soon.

Have some patience.

The seeds are being planted. Do not step on them before they have had a chance to grow.

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