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April 2001

The quarterly magazine of the actors of regional development

3 /9

Spotlight on
Extremadura goes on-line

Closing the gap
The information age

In trying to overcome the disadvantages inherent in its peripheral location, Extremadura is focusing on the IT and telecommunications sectors (NICT). The regional government has pioneered this approach as an answer to the resource gap suffered by economic and social bodies in certain parts of the region.

infodex From the outset, the priorities of the Extremadura IT strategy were to modernise the manufacturing base, improve local services, reduce inequalities between rural and urban areas and spur integration between Spain and Portugal.

The project was launched in 1997 with the creation of Infodex, an organisation financed in equal parts by the regional government and the Structural Funds under RISI (the regional IT initiative). Infodex was tasked with compiling a study of the situation and drawing up a list of requirements - based on this information, an IT strategy would then be developed.

The centrepiece of the whole endeavour is the creation of "Extremadura intranet", a regional network with which secondary networks can be bundled and which will eventually provide access for end-users via a total of 1478 terminals across the entire region. The contract for this work was awarded to the Spanish telecommunications operator Retevision, and the intranet is expected to go live in the second half of 2002.

Alongside these infrastructure projects, the region has also launched various sectoral projects to provide content for the networks. Foremost among these is the technological learning network.

"The hardware that will hook 123 primary schools up to this intranet network has started to be delivered", explained one of Infodex's managers. "At the same time, teachers have begun training in the 18 centres run by the network across the region.
They will pass on what they learn to their pupils".

Other strategic projects include the Extremadura healthcare network (still in its early stages), two business incubators (in Badajoz and Cáceres) catering for technology start-ups, an on-line exchange, and a project called "New centres of learning", covering themes such as literacy and social rehabilitation, which already has 32 centres throughout the region.

This ambitious undertaking could not have got off the ground without the help of the Community's Structural Funds. The new operational programme for Extremadura (2000-2006 period) also contains a special funding strand worth some EUR 37.8 million for IT schemes. At the same time, the region also stands to benefit from the national IT development programme once it is adopted by the Commission. This multi-regional programme, financed from a single fund (the ERDF) and with a budget of EUR 446.6 million from the Community, will focus mainly on measures to stimulate demand for technology, primarily by targeting the small business sector and public services. Finally, the region will also be submitting projects under the regional innovation programmes.

For more information, go to the Extremadura government homepage .

Closing the gap

Geographically speaking, Extremadura is most certainly a peripheral area, lying at the extreme southwestern corner of the European Union, between the centre of the Iberian Peninsula and Portugal. The inhabitants of this Autonomous Region are thinly spread - population density barely reaches 26 inhabitants per square kilometre, with only 7 of its 382 local authorities above 25 000 inhabitants.

In economic terms, Extremadura belongs to Europe's "less developed" regions, with GDP a mere 50% of the Community average. Agriculture remains the bedrock of the local economy, providing the basis for a myriad of other activities such as agri-business and farming services. Average productivity is low and the ageing population is beset with a 25.5% unemployment rate.

Eligible for support under Objective 1 of the Structural Funds as well as the Cohesion Fund, Extremadura has used Community funding to close the gap with other regions. In the 1994-99 programming period, it concentrated on improving communications in the region by modernising and extending transport, telecommunications and energy networks, and on environmental schemes (cleaning up national parks, reforestation, waste management, etc.).

In the 2000-2006 period, the region is set to receive assistance worth EUR 2.1 billion from the Structural Funds. The operational programme for Extremadura centres on two general goals: building up the economic base and decreasing the unemployment rate.

These goals are to be attained by investing in transport and education infrastructure, introducing measures to efficiently manage Extremadura's considerable environmental resources, improve skills levels in the local population and promote the spread of information technology. The Cohesion Fund will continue to support water-supply and purification projects and waste-management schemes, as well as the development of transport infrastructure, such as the rail links between Portugal and Spain.

Total land area:
41 634 km2
1 070 244 (1997)
Per-capita GDP:
50% of EU average (1998)
Unemployment rate:
25,5% (1999)

Interview: The information age

Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra Interview with Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra, President of the Autonomous Region of Extremadura   With the enlargement of the European Union towards the East, don't you think Spain, and especially Extremadura, risk more than ever being marginalised in Europe?

That sort of thinking really is a relic of the industrial age - it just doesn't hold water in the information age. How otherwise can you explain the success of two other countries on the edge of the EU, Finland and Ireland? The issue today is not whether a region is peripheral or not, but rather: how does each individual see their role in the global village, a digital and on-line village?

Is your region well-placed to face the challenges of the information age?

Well, we've been developing the e-economy here for a good four years now - even before the Spanish government set their minds to it!

But isn't it true that you'll be held back by the economic and demographic profile of Extremadura? The big telecommunications companies are hard to attract without some pretty solid guarantees of earnings prospects...

.In Extremadura we've taken steps to ensure that we won't be at the whim of the big financial groups. Rather than waiting for the information revolution to come to us - as happened with cash machines and mobile phones - we're confident that, once they are properly trained and the proper infrastructure is in place, progress will be driven by local people.

And how do you intend to bring about such a drastic change in attitudes?

By taking the initiative with a strategy centred on the man in the street. The policy is twofold. Firstly we are building our own network, "Extremadura intranet". This will bundle together all the services provided by the regional authorities and be available to all sections - both private and public - of society and the economy. Second, we are creating public access and training centres to familiarise the public with new technologies and help them make it part of their daily lives. This technological literacy campaign starts in the schools to eventually cover the whole population.


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