IT and communications technologies are key elements in the EU strategy for boosting economic growth and dealing with major challenges like climate change and population ageing.
The commission unveiled a five-year agenda for the telecommunications industry today, promising ambitious efforts to unlock Europe's digital potential.
The digital agenda is part of the Europe 2020 strategy, the EU's plan for spurring higher growth over the next decade. Of the 7 big initiatives highlighted in the strategy, the digital agenda is the first to be launched - a sign of the importance attached to it.
Developments in information and communication technology have driven gains in productivity in Europe over the past 15 years. But Europe is still not reaping all the benefits of the digital era, commissioner Neelie Kroes said.
The figures speak for themselves.
Some 30% of Europeans have never used the internet, even as commerce and services increasingly move online. The US invests twice as much as Europe in ICT research. Only 1% of Europeans have a fast fibre-based internet connection, compared with 12% of Japanese and 15% of South Koreans.
The plan advocates greater use of IT in all sectors of society. Seven goals are identified, starting with the removal of barriers to doing business across national borders. Such obstacles help explain why there are currently four times as many music downloads in the US as in the EU.
To open up access to legal online content, the commission plans to simplify copyright clearance and cross-border licensing. It also wants to make electronic payments and invoicing easier.
Another priority is speeding up the roll-out of high-speed internet. The commission wants to encourage investment in broadband and fibre-based networks.
Many Europeans are wary of the new technologies out of concern for their privacy The commission will seek tougher rules to protect personal data. In the future, website operators may be required to inform users about security breaches affecting their data.
The plan also calls for more creative use of IT solutions for issues like climate change and population ageing. Energy-efficient lighting and telemedicine are cited as examples. The development of electronic keys for accessing medical records is foreseen.