Digital Agenda for Europe
A Europe 2020 Initiative

Information Society and Economic and Social Cohesion – the role of the Structural Funds

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The results of an evaluation published in 2003 show that the Structural Funds make a significant contribution to promoting the information society.
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The study - 'Information Society and Economic and Social Cohesion – the role of the Structural Funds' - estimates that between 2000 and 2006 some EUR 10 billion will go to measures in this field, supporting the key objectives of the Union such as the e-Europe 2005 Action Plan. The study compared data from 150 regional and three national programmes supported by European funds.

The amounts devoted to the information society vary from EUR 0.6 per inhabitant in Lower Saxony (Germany) to EUR 358 in the Border, Midlands and West region (Ireland).

About half of the regions surveyed give priority to the information society as a dimension that is taken into account across the entire programme.

Amongst the top 20 regions, ranked according to information society expenditure per capita, six are Greek, four UK and two Spanish. Seven are island regions or regions with a mainly insular character.

The study recommends that regions should invest more in strategy development and building regional capacity, especially in the assessment of regional needs and project selection.

It also suggests that regional information society priorities should be more driven by regional demand and supply-side measures, offering a balance in terms of the development of telecommunications infrastructure such as broadband networks, access, applications and services, digital content and skills.

In the less favoured regions, this environment is often characterised by a combination of structural weaknesses, such as the lack of a dynamic business services sector, a poorly developed financial system, weak links between the public and private sectors, sectoral specialisation in traditional industries with little propensity to innovate, low levels of public support for innovation and aid schemes which are poorly adapted to the needs of local SMEs.

In view of this, a primary aim of regional policy should be to help develop new forms of organisation and institutional cooperation, and so improve the 'structural' competitiveness of firms located in these regions, and to encourage resources to be shifted into more dynamic and innovative areas of economic activity.