Neelie Kroes: A bridge too far

Neelie Kroes is not impressed with the government accord: ICT, it turns out, is a bridge too far for the new coalition.

Building bridges: how Dutch and solid the name of the new coalition government’s programme sounds. Consultation, fighting the waves, infrastructure … the image spoke to me, especially since I was running away from a lot of water this week. I was just able to get out of Washington before Sandy hit.


The storm did give me time to study the government accord. Like everybody else I flicked through it to get to the bits that affect my own line of work. But where to find ICT? I went to the areas on which ICT will have the greatest impact: healthcare, education, safety, the media, central government. There was nothing, well almost nothing.

ICT will play a crucial role in limiting the spiralling healthcare costs and delivering better care. The costs of cyber crime are rising exponentially for business, government and citizens alike and youngsters without ICT skills don’t stand a chance on the jobs market. And an electronic government, focused on a better service for its citizens, still seems to be a long way off.

I went to the paragraph on growth and innovation: surely it would have something on ICT or the internet? With growth figures around 12% and a European market bigger than the Dutch economy it would merit a mention at least. But while there was much about the need for technical skills, the accord remained very quiet indeed on ICT. For the record: the estimated shortage of ICT trained people will be one million by the end of 2015.

Wait, there’s something on page 38. There are ten ‘ICT breakthrough projects’, it says without further elaboration. ICT and the internet clearly haven’t broken through yet.


I’m asking myself what people under thirty, who are spending a large portion of their time online, will think of this accord. The people who are building apps, new web-based services, computer games or audio-visual services and who so often bang their heads against a wall of conventional rules and vested interests.

Are small businesses and organisations who really want to be innovative going to find support here? Maybe, but not in the area of ICT.

These businesses need more money to put into research, fewer rules and better access to finance. This last point brings me to a paragraph in the accord that hasn’t been talked of much. It is about facilitating alternative financing methods. Maybe the government is on to something here.

Innovative financing

Here in the US, the government funds an important part of the infrastructure from funds that look after themselves. New York, for instance, has 12bn dollars worth of funds which provide cheap loans for water management. These ‘water bonds’ flow back into the fund at the end of a project and can be used for other, clever investments in the future.

The EU, too, wants to use innovative financing methods, such as project bonds in order to create leverage for private investment in transport, energy infrastructure and, especially, very fast broadband. This will make Europe more competitive. If the coalition is serious about promoting these financing methods then maybe there is more hope for ICT than I thought.


 Neelie Kroes is Euro commissioner for the Digital Agenda

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