Neelie Kroes Urges Matteo Renzi to Demonstrate Digital Leadership

Italy has long been a country of ICT innovation. From Meucci’s telephone and Marconi’s radio; to Olivetti’s desktop PC, the first in the world.

That triumph did not come from being conservative. It came from embracing innovation, change and opportunity.

Today, innovation relies on digital.

I’m not talking about the digital economy, or expanding this or that sector. I am talking about the whole economy. An economy which is all going digital.

Today car companies aren’t making cars – they’re making computers on wheels.

Everything is going digital. From transport to television, your home to your hospital.

Amid all that change – there is much that stays the same. Our desires and ambitions for Europe do not change.

We still want to be a strong continent playing our part globally. We still want jobs for our people: especially young people. We still need the prosperity to afford the protections of which are so rightly proud.

Well – as Tomasi di Lampedusa put it: “if you want things to stay the same, things are going to have to change”. He was talking about 19th-century Italy. But it applies just as much today. For Italy, for all of Europe.

If we want to be a strong continent, rich in innovation and jobs, we need to be on the right side of technology history.

It’s not people like me who are going to provide this innovation. Governments and policymakers aren’t best equipped to come up with these ideas. But we can ensure that public rules and regulations and, yes, financial investment, all support and stimulate that innovation.

The single market is our crown jewel. Use it well, and it can support and stimulate the greatest digital ecosystem in the world: connected, open and secure.

There are amazing opportunities out there. Like big data: more data, more knowledge, better decisions. The industrial revolution on steroids. A small sector growing 40% per year. But more importantly: it has an impact across the whole economy. I don’t want us to see data as a four-letter word, negative and scary – nor continue to depend on skills and tools from overseas. I want the European capacity, capability, and leadership so big data works for us.

With Europe as a frontrunner in the global race to the data-driven economy of tomorrow.

We start from a strong position in the key industrial areas: machines, logistics, cars, pharmaceuticals and more.

And we can build trust in how personal data is used: clear and strong rules, and the digital tools to make them work, that can be our winning formula, the base for building a sound and fair big data economy.

Last week, I put a first set of actions on the table. Just in time for the Italian Presidency to take it forward at full steam.

Those are the opportunities. But here are three areas where we need to improve.

First: Internet innovation needs the right skills.

Today too many Europeans don’t have them. This is costing us jobs. Europe is short of nearly one million skilled ICT workers – jobs going unfilled.

The proposed Italian Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs shows you recognise the scale of this problem — and the tools needed to fix it.  I hope it will be a big success and a big boost to your citizens.

Second, alongside human capital, you need physical capital. That means broadband. Today, four in five Italian homes do not have fast internet coverage: millions without choices and without chances.

It’s time to bridge the broadband gap – and fast.

We are helping this to happen. For private investment we have new EU rules: so it’s cheaper to roll out broadband. We have the stable framework allowing a fair return on investment. And we have on the table legal proposals to connect our continent and bring down the barriers in our telecoms single market – a proposal which I hope the Presidency will move forward with fast.

And to help public funding, we have new state aid rules and block exemptions. And we have EU Structural and Investment Funds that put ICT as a priority.

But I want to make it even easier.

Soon we’ll be launching the connected communities initiative – helping local activists make their way through the maze of funding available. If your broadband project could benefit from technical assistance, visibility, bright ideas or best practice: then we are here to help you achieve your vision!

Finally – we need networks to be secure. People won’t use what they don’t trust.

Every day there are stories of spying, hacks, attacks. With an annual cost to industry of €53 billion, these incidents are complex, costly, and all too common. We need networks to be secure. We need to build trust in this digital world. And we need to find new ways to work together: hackers won’t stop at national borders, and nor should we.  That means cooperation both strategic and operational.

We put legislation on the table to ensure this. I am glad the Italian presidency has put that legislation at the top of its agenda: we need it in place as soon as possible. And as I speak, national computer emergency response teams are meeting – a great example of working together. Plus there’s a role for ENISA, our cyber security agency, in making Europe more resilient and responsive. And an industrial policy on cyber security could build on areas where we are already strong: like e-identification, signatures and encryption. Turning cyber threats into an opportunity to build competitiveness.

There is a huge digital opportunity out there. Italy is in a great place to lead the way and grab it.

There are billions in EU structural funds available – with ICT as a priority. With the right strategy for digital growth, and the right plan for next generation broadband, Italy can unlock those billions. So go for it! Plus remember there are resources like the European Social Fund to boost skills.

And as EU presidency, too, Italy can show leadership. On the table are two pieces of legislation waiting to be agreed: to make our network and information systems secure and resilient, and to build a telecoms single market. Taken together they would protect our citizens and businesses against hacks and attacks. End roaming charges. Ensure net neutrality. And bring down other barriers in our single market. Barriers that hold back innovation, cut off investment, prevent Europe from embracing a connected, competitive future.

This presidency is a powerful opportunity – it makes a bridge to the next Commission. Lots of people are talking about digital – now we need to turn our rhetoric into reality; our ambition into action and achievement. Here in Italy and across the EU.

There’s a tremendous transformation on offer. And I know Prime Minister Renzi has the courage and commitment to lead this charge. This morning I’ve spoken to him and I’ve listened to him – he understands; this event itself shows the priority he places.

There’s a chance to change history. To make Europe fully prosper in the digital age. To become a continent that is connected, open and secure. I hope it is an opportunity the Italian government will grab hold of with both hands.

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