Official Journal of the European Union

C 318/9

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Enhancing digital literacy, e-skills and e-inclusion’ (exploratory opinion)

2011/C 318/02

Rapporteur: Ms BATUT

On 24 January 2011 the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on

Enhancing digital literacy, e-skills and e-inclusion

(exploratory opinion).

The Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 22 June 2011.

At its 473rd plenary session, held on 13 and 14 July 2011 (meeting of 13 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion with 136 votes in favour and 2 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1   Unequal ICT access is primarily an extension of financial and social inequalities; there is an urgent need to develop growth and employment in order to secure a successful exit from the crisis.

1.2   For ALL citizens, having a critical grasp of the contents of all media tools means 1) being online; 2) knowing how to use the equipment; 3) being at home with technology; 4) being trained to use it; 5) being part of the e-society.

1.3   E-inclusion must follow a global approach and ensure everyone's independence, regardless of their position in society. The EESC believes that the EU and the Member States should guarantee digital accessibility through lifelong e-skills training for professional and/or personal reasons, and also for citizenship.

1.4   Access to infrastructure and tools must be seen as a fundamental right.

1.5   The EESC would like the EU, national and local authorities to use existing dialogue structures to meet with civil society representatives in order to identify real needs more accurately.

1.6   The quality, innovation, transparency and accessibility that can be expected from services of general interest (SGI) and the authorities in Europe and the Member States are the very foundations of e-inclusion.

1.7   Because businesses are broadly in touch with the digital world (1) while 30 % of households had yet to be connected to the internet in 2010 (2), the EESC believes that the EU's role must be to provide impetus and guidance, giving people equal opportunities, and that the EU could, without delay, introduce a harmonised approach for Member States covering protection to make practices and data secure. The EESC advocates coordination between the EU and its Member States to support the e-inclusion of:

older people, by:

making the European Year of Active Ageing (2012) an opportunity for the EU to enhance the role that ICT plays in linking generations, in order to allow the ‘not so old’ to stay active, and the old to avoid isolation and live in comfort;

helping older people develop e-skills through local training and support;

having accessible targets, equipment and software to generate interest and then need;

developing local projects in the area of e-health, restoring collective memory and independence, for example at neighbourhood level, with a view to re-establishing social links;

people with disabilities, by:

enabling them to participate in society on a non-discriminatory basis by using ICT whose accessibility and user-friendliness is guaranteed;

developing – through the Commission – a Design for All requirement vis-à-vis industry, designers and manufacturers, imposing an accessibility clause covering equipment and software in import markets, and adopting measures requiring the dissemination of IT in homes, on public and private transport, in construction, etc.;

low-income earners, by:

supporting the production of accessible software, adapted to the needs of minority groups;

supporting free public internet services at urban hot spots and in deprived urban areas;

giving them the opportunity to learn and acquire skills for a job through e-learning;

facilitating use of open data 2.0 and open sources;

the educationally disadvantaged, by:

providing access to public funds for centres offering ‘on-site facilitation’ so that users are not left to tackle the computer alone;

requiring operators to provide affordable telephone and media access as a training support;

promoting the fun side of ICT to avoid discouragement: ‘serious games’, software with skilling content, use of social networks; and

providing support for local operators;

minorities, by:

supporting tailored multilingual online projects (e.g. health education, e-health, e-learning); and

giving them access to free public internet centres, e-learning and schooling.

1.8   In general, the EESC sees the need:

to mainstream e-inclusion across all policies at EU and Member State level;

to complete network infrastructure quickly (isolated regions, broad band etc.);

to base public European, national and local ICT development policies on inclusion and non-discrimination from the outset;

to encourage use of equipment and software which is just out of date;

to provide resources to ensure e-inclusion of women;

1.8.1   to finance actions by:

promoting the funding of universal access through national public subsidies and EU funds;

developing investment in public-oriented services (ESF, ERDF), securing the R&D budget at 3 % of European GDP, and reducing public budget cuts;

allocating a reserve fund to this vital challenge, to preserve knowledge and mitigate the effects of crises;

including the digital challenge as a priority (ESF) in local authority programmes and providing civil society organisations with the resources to support e-excluded groups;

adapting the additionality principle in respect of Structural Funds allocated to e-inclusion;

using, if need be, compulsory loans for major infrastructure work;

promoting PPPs (public-private partnerships) in an appropriate European framework;

promoting the principle of a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) and allocating part of it to e-inclusion;

launching negotiations between ‘commercial gaming’ businesses and public operators (education), with a view to re-using their technologies once they have become outdated at a secondary level, at a lower cost;

promoting the development of microfinance for training projects;

promoting systems that give people direct assistance in accessing basic tools (hardware and software); and

evaluating progress in ICT over the last five years (jobs created) in order to define real needs with operators;

1.8.2   to facilitate the acquisition of skills by:

creating a sectoral advisory service in order to establish a European reference framework;

setting up a European reference framework for training and new ICT or ICT-related careers and defining the criteria for granting diplomas recognised throughout Europe;

creating a multilingual European learning module for rapid acquisition of performance-enhancing skills and knowledge;

using this European framework to raise the profile and salaries of ICT jobs and developing e-learning to take the profession forward effectively (updating IT jobs) in order to increase the number of IT practitioners and their upskilling;

introducing an ‘e-economy passport’ as a requirement for setting up businesses;

1.8.3   to provide internet security for vulnerable groups by:

defining basic internet content, and not leaving this entirely to the market (EU and Member States);

defining ‘anti-pollution’ rules for websites, teaching cyber-security in schools;

ensuring that all websites contain features which can help remind people about basic security precautions;

ensuring that network user rights are established and respected; and to achieve this;

establishing a digital users' code of rights which complies with the principles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Article 9 of the TFEU, and which at least ensures respect for their freedom of expression and information, the right to personal data protection, the right to be forgotten, and the right to see minors protected;

1.8.4   to provide access to jobs by:

promoting the development of social and civil dialogue with the many existing structures on all the points raised, in order to improve awareness of needs and to transform e-skills into jobs and opportunities for economic, social and personal development; and

promoting e-skills training for business employees so that they can work for longer and help increase their company's productivity.

1.8.5   In order to achieve inclusive education for everyone, the EESC urges the EU to:

promote equal access to inclusive education in all schools;

promote future e-inclusion from pre-school age, without discrimination;

promote e-training for parents and teachers, and restructure working conditions for the latter;

promote computer activities – obviously teacher-supervised - for children, especially those who are failing at school, particularly ‘fun’ activities (3), aimed at the controlled use of images which spurs on new forms of learning and expression, particularly ‘fun’ activities (using smart phones in lessons, ‘serious games’, tablets, e-books, social networks, etc.);

promote labour market access for everyone by providing sound, basic general and IT training.

2.   Background

2.1   The Europe 2020 strategy's objective is to use smart, sustainable and inclusive growth to emerge from the crisis. The Digital Agenda for Europe  (4) pinpoints as obstacles the lack of digital skills, the risk of low trust in networks, cybercrime, and missed opportunities in addressing societal challenges.

2.2   The EESC considers this objective to be absolutely vital. No citizen should suffer e-exclusion, although e-inclusion should first of all open the way to personal development, participation in social life and independence (5).

3.   Definitions

3.1   E-inclusion

According to the Riga Declaration (6), concerns both ICT and the use of ICT to achieve wider inclusion objectives through the participation of all individuals and local authorities in all aspects of the Information Society.

3.2   The beneficiaries of the measures

People can be subdivided into categories depending on the support allocated to them. Nevertheless, e-inclusion must be a global measure. From a human perspective e-inclusion starts by avoiding stigmatising people by pigeon-holing them; from a social perspective it involves taking a collective approach; and from an industrial and commercial perspective it means applying the ‘Design for All’ concept, from development to end-of-use.

3.3   Digital literacy

By default, digital literacy is an essential tool – the only way of accessing what used to be culture in the wider sense, viewed as the link between people. Without this tool there is less opportunity to approach other people or gain new skills.

Culture (literacy), skills and inclusion cannot be dissociated and require a holistic, non-discriminatory approach to e-inclusion covering the whole of society.

3.3.1   Being included means meeting the following pre-conditions:

being online: e-accessibility is a key aspect;

knowing how to use the equipment;

feeling at home with technology: being trained, having e-skills that enable people to use all Mac, Windows, Linux, internet and mobile phone software, etc.;

mastering the information needed for the critical assessment of all media support content, with a view to active citizenship.

3.3.2   The digitally excluded include older people, people with disabilities, some carers, and those with low incomes or standards of education, with various nuances. The ‘older’ population includes a percentage of educated people who have been using the internet since its inception, and in some Member States is an effective economic driver. The EESC believes that we need to ensure everyone's independence via digital technology, irrespective of their position in society, through targeted approaches combined with a broad-spectrum approach, which would be more economical and integrative.

3.3.3   The EESC holds the view that e-inclusion is far from stable or linear. Technology is developing continually, job insecurity and flexibility are growing, and careers are more fragmented. E-exclusion is often linked to superimposed causes. Training and updating skills are basic aspects of e-inclusion.

3.3.4   Businesses that have financial difficulties and lack the skills and/or time are affected. The EESC believes that e-inclusion requires forward planning in order to ensure that ICT developments keep pace as far as possible with trends in the causes of exclusion.

3.4   E-skills for professionals

Lifelong training is vital. Having experienced a strong uptake by the younger generations, IT qualifications (7) suffer from a low profile and less attractive salaries. There is an urgent need to motivate future professionals with enhanced status, salaries and working conditions in order to address the shortfall in qualified workers and forms of adequate training and to include people in difficulty; ICT professionals bring users in their wake.

4.   The means

4.1   Universal access

4.1.1   In 2002, in order to eliminate inequalities in ICT access and to promote e-inclusion, the EU introduced a universal service and users' rights relating to electronic communications networks and services (8). Requesting an online public communications network connection implies having enough bandwidth for functional, affordable internet access. This has nothing to do with eliminating the market or fair competition, but with balancing economic objectives with meeting urgent social needs. As the EESC has frequently reiterated, the market is not an end in itself – its purpose is to improve the lives of citizens.

4.1.2   The quality, innovation, transparency and accessibility that can be expected of SGI in Europe and the Member States are the very foundations of e-inclusion. This is a matter, therefore, of social effectiveness over the long haul, a key element of ‘performance’ in terms of inclusion. That is the problem with this e-inclusion challenge: while, on the one hand, the social effectiveness of SGI and social services of general interest (SSGI), as well as long-term public initiatives, will be essential for achieving results in terms of inclusion, on the other this is a sector where it is vital to act fast. It is up to public authorities to endeavour to solve this problem.

4.2   Universal, equal access

4.2.1   Networks covering the whole of Europe, the development of broadband to boost high speed connections and the use of the digital dividend band (9) have to be completed as soon as possible in order to guarantee universal service.

4.2.2   It can be seen that unequal access and use of ICT persist and reflect pre-existing economic and social inequalities. Those who enjoy e-inclusion are usually those who have the means to acquire the necessary logistics and skills.

5.   Acquiring basic e-skills

Spreading e-literacy

Bringing the three factors, need + interest + means (financial and others) together introduces the target groups to digital literacy.

5.1   Older people

5.1.1   Older people (10), a growing segment of the population, use ICT the least:

: they need to update their skills. The EESC believes that, in order to help them reintegrate into the labour market or to stay on it, local authorities, working with businesses, through social dialogue, could offer training geared to these people;

: they must overcome lack of interest, confidence and trust and get to grips with these tools for professional, family or social reasons. The EESC believes that it is up to technology and the ‘experts’ to adapt. People in this category should be offered 1) guidance, 2) user-friendly software, 3) equipment they can manage, 4) objectives which have been adapted in order to generate interest and then need, for instance through e-health projects, restoring collective memory at neighbourhood level, for example, re-establishing social links and independence.

5.1.2   ICT can be a lifeline for people who live alone. For example, providing widespread, reasonably-priced telephone/emergency notification systems triggered by simply pressing a button can be one of the key roles of social services of general interest (SSGI), saving people in difficulties. The role of online healthcare is set to grow (11); all the principles which the EESC would like to see respected as regards digital users are universal in character and apply to social and health care.

5.1.3   The European Year of Active Ageing (2012) and its innovation partnerships should be an opportunity for the EU to enhance the inclusive role played by ICT in linking generations (training), and allowing older people to avoid isolation and live in comfort.

5.2   People with disabilities

ICT can facilitate the participation of people with disabilities in society on an equal footing with others (12). The issues are the same as for other groups: defining the objective, facilitating training and providing appropriate and accessible software and equipment, as well as accessible and easy-to-use machines and, in particular, intelligent transport systems (13). The role played by e-literacy as a ‘service of general interest’ is highlighted with respect to people with disabilities. Providing support for each disability group can lead to better social inclusion. The role played by NGOs must be recognised and coordinated with that of public authorities. A universal design approach, which to the extent possible takes the needs of all kinds of users into account, is preferable to specialised designs targeted at people with disabilities only.

5.3   Low-income groups

5.3.1   Unequal ICT access is an extension of financial and social inequalities: men/women, households/single women, towns/rural areas or islands, rich countries/less advanced countries. These must clearly be fought in order to achieve inclusion for as many people as possible.   Immigrants and members of other minorities are at an even greater disadvantage. Software is not produced that would be useful to them.

5.3.2   The EESC holds the view that setting up free public internet access at urban hot spots and access to open data 2.0 and open sources, would allow people to carry out job searches and communicate. Landlines remain useful as training supports. This is a role that the public authorities, operators and the third sector should share.

5.3.3   Access to infrastructure and tools must be seen as a fundamental right. Training and transfer of knowledge and expertise are extremely important for digital literacy at all ages and in all life situations.

5.4   Low-education groups

5.4.1   The EESC believes that people in this group need specialised support to understand the advantages of digital literacy, starting with the use of the telephone and the media.

5.4.2   Using the machine-teacher combination and starting with things that are fun avoids discouragement. The EESC believes that children who are failing at school could be helped to catch up by using smart phones, which could be seen as the new pencil. Basic skills can be taught by beginning with ‘serious games’, similar to brain games, for both children and adults, using software with skilling content.

5.4.3   In order to achieve e-inclusion, the EU needs a culture-enriched internet. Culture is the thing that Europeans are most likely to recognise themselves as sharing. The EU should use this cultural diversity in all Digital Agenda initiatives (14). Digitising cultural objects can make it easier for the most disadvantaged to access knowledge that is a resource needed for social integration and personal development, particularly in a person's native language.

5.5   Minorities

5.5.1   The EESC would like e-inclusion to be open to minorities, be they immigrant or non-immigrant, such as the Roma. They are not illiterate; they do not speak the language or share the culture of their host country. They do not have easy access to a computer. The women are often the least informed and at an even greater disadvantage.

5.5.2   IMI (15), an online multilingual application that EU national authorities use to communicate easily, is an example which could serve as a basis for social applications to develop training for EU residents and citizens and thus give them access to e-learning.

5.5.3   The role of social networks could be significant, if properly controlled, for all the groups mentioned in this section. Moreover, internet cafes, which play a significant role in developing young people's interest in IT and e-skills, could be made more affordable – for example, local authorities could issue reduced-price coupons.

5.6   Businesses, too

5.6.1   SMEs can find themselves at risk of e-exclusion if ICT is not their main area of work. Lack of time to learn the skills, the weight of tradition, financial difficulties or an outdated approach to ICT management could affect the management of businesses, their process and their salaries. They may therefore be unable to benefit from cloud computing (16), which offers IT management solutions. Since their productivity could be affected, the means to include them must be sought.

6.   Developing everyone's e-skills to tackle social and societal challenges

6.1   Education and training  (17)

6.1.1   Future inclusion begins at pre-school age.

Equal access to an inclusive IT education in all schools for all children – including those with disabilities, those who are isolated and those who come from disadvantaged families – would increase their independence in adulthood. Widespread, teacher-supervised use of ‘serious games’, tablets and e-books and use of social networks could help include those children who have most difficulty, thanks to the new methods of learning available.

6.1.2   The qualifications and diplomas obtained and the choice of IT career path should be supported by a European reference framework for training relevant to the new IT-related careers. Some occupations are upskilled versions of old ones; others are not. An open European directory of digital skills could be established in order to define the conditions for issuing European diplomas to facilitate the mobility of those interested. The EESC believes that adopting measures that provide students with a high-quality socio-occupational status following IT studies should go some way towards stemming their disaffection with the field.

6.1.3   The European approach must be applied to all types of IT teaching at national, regional and local level, and include training of parents and teachers, whose working conditions must be reviewed.

6.2   Lifelong e-learning

6.2.1   Some of the groups concerned can be reached through targeted campaigns. For e-excluded groups, the transfer of experimental knowledge is important, and participatory methods, alongside theory, both contribute to the development of potential and provide an opportunity for integration. This is particularly important for the unemployed, workers, older people and socially excluded groups, who want to work and need to build on their employability and social skills.

6.2.2   Business actions

Obtaining an ‘e-economy passport’ after a standard ICT training course for the business environment could in the future be a requirement for setting up a business.

In-house ICT training for company staff should be introduced across the board by means of internal agreements, as it contributes to e-inclusion and allows staff to continue to work for longer and help increase their company's productivity.

6.2.3   Public authority actions

National and local ICT development policies must be based on inclusion and non-discrimination from the outset.

Using the Structural Funds: It is up to the authorities to define which innovative activities are important to society as a whole and can be supported in order to offer them to those concerned at the most affordable price.

The EU and Member States should put forward a European framework to improve professional organisation of IT careers.

6.3   Working on content

6.3.1   The importance of content makes it impossible to leave the definition of training, education and culture to the market.

6.3.2   National public authorities should define basic content, facilitate distance learning courses and, with the EU, set the criteria for granting diplomas recognised throughout the EU. It is vital to listen to users in order to identify their real needs.

6.3.3   Adaptive multimedia content is vital to ensure a digital continuum for the user (‘knowledgeable’ internet), in accordance with disability access.

6.3.4   People whose languages are very seldom used outside their country are at a disadvantage when it comes to internet services. The EU and the Member States should ensure that their cultures are respected and that useful information is published in their languages.

6.3.5   The content of social networks is created by users. The tool can be used to attract anyone having difficulties with ICT, with due regard for users' rights.

7.   Improving security to secure trust


People have to be very careful when using digital technology if they are unsure of themselves or the system (18) and when comparative ignorance of cyber security prevents them from forearming themselves (19). Excluded people or people experiencing e-exclusion are at even greater risk.


Using information technology changes people's and society's ways of thinking: for example, should transparency or intimacy be safeguarded? In general, any e-inclusion approach should take into account the fact that the tool itself involves a high degree of ‘intrusion’ (20) – authorised or unauthorised – into private life, and that if it is not used properly this could have devastating consequences for each user, especially vulnerable users. Stepping up the fight against abuse and e-crime should help bolster users' confidence.


A summary of challenges posed by the digital agenda and people's expectations is set out below in the schematic form of three concentric circles:


7.1   Users' rights

7.1.1   The EESC calls for measures that instil trust and provide security for all groups, the digital environment and online transactions, as provided for in the 7th Research and Development Framework Programme (RDFP7) (21).

7.1.2   Ways of building features into websites which can remind users of simple precautions to take in order to protect themselves could be explored (22). Giving children short guides such as the European Commission's ‘eYou Guide – to your rights online’ (23) to study when they begin secondary school would play a very important part in helping young people, who are also vulnerable, to develop the instincts they need to use the internet safely.

7.1.3   The EESC believes that the public should be better informed about the role of the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), as provided for under Article 16 TFEU, and of the Article 29 Working Party.

7.1.4   The EESC also believes that the dignity of users should be safeguarded through EU legislation (24) based on the principles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in order to uphold:

their freedom of expression and information, particularly in their native language;

their right to protection of their private life and personal data (ID, health, etc.);

their right to be forgotten; and

their right to see minors protected.

7.1.5   The EESC also recalls that there are already a number of national and international (25) consumer charters that refer to the fundamental rights of digital users, with a view to these rights being guaranteed. The European Parliament has also called for one. The Committee would like discussions to be held as soon as possible with consumer organisations and the European social partners on the Code of EU Online Rights mentioned by the European Commission in its Communication on a Digital Agenda (26).

7.2   The EP has called for a ‘Fifth Freedom that enables the free circulation of content and knowledge’. The EESC believes that this freedom should ensure user security and intellectual property. Security is also required for financial and industrial data. Grids and ‘cloud computing’, which bring several digital operators into play at the same time, require specific methods of protection which must be made available to businesses, especially micro-businesses.

7.3   Accelerating e-government (27) in order to facilitate administrative procedures could make them securer, especially for older people, bearing in mind that e-democracy can be inclusive but must not undermine democracy per se, and that its use must be subject to the principles mentioned above.

8.   Creating jobs

8.1   Universal e-inclusion is supposed to increase employment and growth. The crisis, the demographic situation and rising unemployment and insecurity do not facilitate the development of skills, from either the employees' or the employers' perspective. Action against job insecurity and isolation is one of the conditions needed to allow people to obtain qualifications, especially in IT, in order to access an inclusive labour market (28), because the gap between the qualified and unqualified is widening. It is absolutely vital for social dialogue, especially sectoral dialogue, (29) and public policies to converge in order to increase and transform the e-skills of groups that are at a disadvantage on the labour market.

8.2   New kinds of jobs are of interest to groups who are learning IT in order to re-enter the labour market. Agencies responsible for employment in the Member States should be in a position to highlight them in the various sectors, in order to promote their recognition by the EU.

8.3   Labour inspection bodies, in all Member States, need updating.

8.4   The mainstreaming and synergy between EU measures will decide the success of e-inclusion in the EU. Most digital equipment owned by end users is imported into the EU, and Europeans are ignorant of the characteristics of its manufacture. However, from the public's point of view, accessibility depends on the technology of the equipment they have at home, especially in the case of disadvantaged groups, and especially for older people and people with disabilities. We need to promote extremely accessible design and functionality and software with adapted content as the assets of inclusive e-literacy, defined according to European approaches in compliance with international standards. We also need to include clauses in trade agreements.

8.5   This calls for investment in all areas, especially in public services. If Europeans do not do it, others will, and EU businesses will lose markets and jobs. The EU's current objective is to invest 3 % of GDP in R&D. The EESC believes that the EU urgently needs to put this into practice. All disadvantaged groups expect progress.

9.   Financing the measures

9.1   The policies developed must ensure that today's e-included stay included. The budgets to be allocated to this vital challenge for the EU have to be developed over the long term, from the beginning (R&D&I) to the end of the chain (end users), with financial reserves that make it possible to smooth over the effects of crises. When national budgets no longer have room for manoeuvre as a result of cost-cutting, every additional 1 % can make a difference.

9.2   Inclusion of all e-excluded groups can be developed by creating a structured European market for appropriate support services, possibly in the form of task forces, which would have a scale effect.

9.3   Funding has to cover infrastructure for the entire territory of the EU, technological research and innovation, content, social innovation for excluded groups, e-learning, transforming skills into jobs, action by civil society and businesses, and national, regional and local authorities.

9.4   Cumulative support should remove the causes of exclusion, which are also cumulative, covering energy costs, premises, definition of content, development of suitable equipment, and definition of suitable teaching methods.

9.5   E-inclusion measures (management, measures, oversight) should be highlighted in the annual report published by the Commission and discussed with the social partners. Measures to direct the public towards e-inclusion opportunities should be widely disseminated.

9.5.1   Regional and local operators, at the frontline in terms of implementing national policies, should 1) place ICT high on their local agendas and make use of the ESF; 2) raise the awareness of leaders of social groups, regarding the digital needs of these groups; 3) raise the awareness of target groups, using local resources such as local television; 4) consult these target groups about their needs by holding meetings with organised civil society representatives.   The EESC deplores the fact that EU and national social and civil dialogue is not specifically structured around the e-society, which has a far-reaching impact on lifestyles, whereas disadvantaged groups need long-term stability, consistency, guarantees, and decentralised action.

9.6   Businesses should be able to develop through e-skills and to raise the awareness of developers and manufacturers regarding their own needs and so that consideration is given to disabilities of all kinds (Design for All, including e-accessibility).

9.7   Financing methods

9.7.1   The European Social Fund (ESF): For the 2014-2020 period, the Commission (Key Actions 11 & 12) intends to allocate ESF funds to Member States to meet e-inclusion objectives. The EESC considers that it is also necessary to seek all synergies between budget lines.   The EESC questions the relevance of the additionality principle for the allocation of Structural Funds when it comes to such a crucial future issue, at a time when many public entities are in serious financial difficulty, and it is no longer possible to put off the steps that have to be taken to reduce the digital divide. The EESC calls for direct allocation options to be explored.

9.7.2   In order to achieve e-inclusion, the EESC proposes that new funding methods be sought:

between private and public operators, for ICT in general, and with ‘commercial gaming’ businesses (whose takings are extremely high), in order to re-use their state-of-the-art technology at a secondary level, and therefore at a lower cost;

for e-infrastructure and other infrastructure, in the framework of the Commission's ‘Europe 2020 Project Bond Initiative to fund infrastructure’, if it materialises (30);

through participation aimed at e-learning for access providers, operators and equipment suppliers;

by means of a European financial transaction tax (FTT) (31), part of which could go towards e-inclusion.

9.7.3   In all cases, monitoring (32) the use of funds will be crucial to the effectiveness of support. The social partners will have to be involved in different types of monitoring. The ESF already has monitoring committees. PPPs, which would be possible in an appropriate European framework, could also do with new ways of monitoring the final cost for taxpayers and users, in line with rules on SGI, services of general economic interest (SGEI) and SSGI. They would only be possible in an appropriate European framework (33).

9.7.4   The EESC believes that it is not enough to ensure widespread access and adapt the transmission speeds of universal service to technological developments, and reiterates its earlier recommendations (CESE 1915/2008):

to give attention to the social exclusion facing disadvantaged users groups who lack means and skills, as well as to geographical exclusion, and expanding universal service in order to ensure availability for all users, regardless of their situation;

to facilitate the financing of universal service via national public subsidies and EU funds, which is the only alternative for countries where operators would be unable to bear the financial burden of universal service (34);

to support e-inclusion projects, especially microfinancing for local training projects, public internet access points and the establishment of interactive internet kiosks in public areas offering free internet access; and

to encourage Member States to provide financial support for families or people who would find the cost of basic equipment (computer, software, modem), access and service prohibitive.

Brussels, 13 July 2011.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  OJ C 116, 20.4.2001, p. 30; OJ C 77, 31.3.2009, p.60 and p. 63; OJ C 175, 28.7.2009, p. 92; OJ C 317, 23.12.2009, p. 84; OJ C 128, 18.5.2010, p. 69; OJ C 255, 22.9.2010, p. 116; OJ C 48, 15.2.2011, p. 72; OJ C 54, 19.2.2011, p. 58; OJ C 107, 6.4.2011, p. 44 and p. 58; OJ C 218, 23.7.2011, p. 130.

(2)  See Eurostat-STAT10/193, 14.12.2010.

(3)  ‘Edutainment’.

(4)  COM(2010) 245 final/2, OJ C 54, 19.2.2011.

(5)  EU Ministerial Declaration, Malmö, Sweden, 18 November 2009.

(6)  EU Ministerial Declaration on ICT for an inclusive society, Riga, Latvia, 11 June 2006, point 4.

(7)  According to INSEAD, The Business School for the World, quoted by DG Enterprise, Mr Richier, hearing of 28.3.2011.

(8)  Directive 2002/22/EC.

(9)  OJ C 94, 18.4.2002; OJ C 110, 9.5.2006; OJ C 175, 27.7.2007; OJ C 224, 30.8.2008; OJ C 175, 28.7.2009; OJ C 128, 18.5.2010; OJ C 44, 11.2.2011; OJ C 54, 19.2.2011; OJ C 107, 6.4.2011, p.53.

(10)  OJ C 44, 11.2.2011, p. 17; OJ C 77, 31.3.2009, p. 115; OJ C 74, 23.3.2005, p. 44.

(11)  OJ C 317, 23, 12. 2009, p. 84;

see EHTEL, European Health Telematics Association.

(12)  COM(2010) 636 final - United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities/EU/23.12.2010.

(13)  OJ C 277, 17.11.2009, p. 85.

(14)  The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions of 20 October 2005 came into force on 18 March 2007; EP resolution of 5 May 2010 on a new Digital Agenda for Europe: 2015.eu.

(15)  IMI – COM(2011) 75 final of 21.2.2011 – Cooperation and Europe/Economic development and jobs, www.ec.europa.eu/imi-net.

(16)  Cloud computing: the use of IT technology to deliver products, services and management solutions in real time via the internet, either within a company (private) or externally (public) or in hybrid form. EESC opinion (TEN/452) under preparation.

(17)  e-Learning: the use of new multimedia technologies and the internet to improve the quality of learning by facilitating access to resources and services as well as remote exchanges and collaboration. (European Commission definition – e-Learning Initiative).

(18)  OJ C 218, 23.7.2011, p. 130.

(19)  OJ C 107, 6.4.2011, p. 58, and COM(2010) 521 final.

(20)  Alex Türk, president of the Commission Nationale Informatique et Libertés (National Commission for Information Technology and Freedoms), France, in ‘La vie privée en péril, des citoyens sous contrôle’ (Private life in peril, citizens under surveillance), published by O. Jacob, 2011; work of the Article 29 Working Party bringing together representatives of all independent national data protection authorities (Article 29, Directive of 24.10.1995).

(21)  RDFP7 for 2007-2013 - Decision No 1982/2006/EC, 18.12.2006.

(22)  Opinion 5/2009 of the Article 29 Working Party on online social networking, 12.6.2009, chapter 5, point 8: privacy-friendly default settings.

(23)  www.ec.europa.eu/eyouguide.

(24)  European Parliament resolution of 5 May 2010 on a new Digital Agenda for Europe: 2015.eu, point 29, ‘… reminds Member States that almost half of them have still not ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime’.

(25)  DOC No: INFOSOC 37-08, March 2008 – Charter of Consumer Rights in the Digital World.

(26)  COM(2010) 245 final/2, Action 4.

(27)  Malmö Declaration, 2009.

(28)  Framework Agreement concluded by ETUC-BUSINESSEUROPE, CEEP and UEAPME - 2010.

(29)  Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment of the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (2008/C 111/01).

(30)  This consultation is open until 2 May 2011.

(31)  EP, Podimata report on a financial transaction tax – adopted by 529 votes to 127 with 18 abstentions (9.3.2011).

(32)  OJ C 132, 3.5.2011, p. 8.

(33)  OJ C 48, 15.2.2011, p. 72.

(34)  OJ C 175, 28.7.2009, p. 8.