The first session of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva will be the most important political event in this area since the term "information society" was coined. The summit wants to draw up a common vision of this society, agreed between governments with the participation of all stakeholders.
By Erkki Liikanen
EU commissioner for enterprise and information society
For the European Union, as well as for nations around the world, this represents a unique opportunity to build a people-centred society which we should move forward on the basis of universal values.
These values are contained in the relevant texts of the UN, namely human rights and freedom of expression as well as the empowerment which the internet gives to the individual and to repressed and disadvantaged groups.
To do so, we need a common vision which takes into account both the characteristics of every stakeholder and creates a consensus within a broad range of themes such as:
intellectual property protection
network and information security
the role of the media
The information society extends beyond national and regional borders and there is a clear need to discuss it on a global scale. The WSIS will allow us to communicate better with each other.
It is vital that we use this opportunity to discuss the many new issues associated with the information society such as the creation of enabling environments in each country and internet governance.
I would like to reaffirm here the EU's strong belief in an information society built on human rights and freedom of expression.
The EU and the accession countries have been participating very actively in the preparatory meetings for the summit. Member states have agreed to a common EU position for negotiations.
I am convinced that the inclusive approach of the EU to the information society, currently based on the Lisbon 2010 Strategy for productivity, growth and quality of life, could provide a useful contribution to all of these discussions.
The European Union has great interest in developing an information society with other countries around the world, and is actively discussing many bilateral and multilateral engagements.
As a major donor of economic aid, the EU sees information communication technologies (ICTs) as part of development assistance and economic co-operation programmes, as well as increasing these commitments in accordance with the wishes of its partners.
In this context, there is a need for solidarity with developing countries to assist them effectively in their efforts to close the digital divide.
The preparatory meetings have stressed the great risks connected with the digital divide within all its aspects: technological, territorial, social, cultural, and linguistic. These could considerably unbalance not only development, but also national, cultural and intellectual influence.
Without active political action, divergences will increase and the digital divide will widen between countries and people. However, technological wealth and the proliferation of projects across many countries, such as for development, illustrate the great potential of the information society.
Information society for all
There are calls to substitute the concept of digital divide with the more positive term "digital solidarity". This challenge will constitute one of the priorities for international action at the WSIS. It is already at the heart of the EU's concerns.
An increasing number of parties are taking part in the construction of the information society: local public authorities, civil society, user groups, industrialists, the private sector, and so on.
The coherent mobilisation of these contributions is a key factor for success in building an information society for all. Several types of partnership are already emerging: local-national; private-public; trans-national... And there may well be others.
The multiplication of tools makes ICT use more and more unpredictable. Users broaden the scope of non-profit activities often by reacting against dominant solutions offered by the market and also provide new tools for dealing with solidarity and inclusion.
This tends to occur within a less prominent community of voluntary and charitable organisations which we must engage in our dialogue. This is also one of the issues that has been raised during the preparation of the summit.
Differences between the North and the South will also see massive changes: some developing countries now play a major role in innovation, for instance. In this context, there are new demands to regulate these developments.
Market and non-profit requirements
There are calls for a policy which both preserves a profitable economy, which is vital for growth and productivity, and promotes the not-for-profit sector, and also calls for new partnerships between stakeholders.
As the Commissioner for Enterprise as well as for Information Society, I believe that we can find synergies by identifying what is compatible between the market sector and the non-profit economy.
There are common interests such as the development of innovation and the knowledge economy. The WSIS will allow us to point out where they can work together.
Finally, the WSIS also provides us with the opportunity to share our vision for the future and to point out what we consider key drivers for the information society. From the EU point of view, constant interaction between policy making, regulation and technological development is one such driver.
ICT has a key role in fostering economic development as illustrated by the EU Growth Initiative. Furthermore it also has the potential to develop a participative role for citizens in governance at the European, national, regional or local level, with the potential to strengthen democracy.
We do hope that the summit allows for many countries to seize these opportunities.
See you in Geneva!