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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Thursday, 24.04.2014, 04:09

Union’s IT strategy & Entrepreneurship

Eugene Eteris, European Studies Faculty, RSU, Riga, 27.04.2011.Print version
Information technology (IT), in a general sense, as well as innovations and research are within the main guidelines of the EU-2020 Strategy. However, the European Union’s IT policy is much broader in the context and includes numerous “communication issues”; hence the notion of information and communication technology (ICT). Some of the ICT issues are in the Commission within the Enterprise & Industry DG, others in Research & Innovation as well as in the Information Society with the EU Digital Agenda. Thus, at least three commissioners are involved in the Union’s ICT issues.

Eugene Eteris at the Round Table in the Baltic International Academy. Riga, 27.06.2011.

The article is prepared for the Round Table “Information technologies in business management: challenges and risks.”, organised by the Baltic International Academy, Latvian Employers Association and International Web-Magazine “The Baltic Course” on 27st of April in Riga, Latvia. 

 

The Lisbon Treaty did not specify IT or ICT in the division of competences between the Union and the member states. The Treaty, though, in a special Title XIX describes cooperation efforts in research and technology in very general terms (articles 179-190, TFEU). The EU-2020 strategy was adopted after the Lisbon Treaty took effect; hence the Treaty’s deficiency in describing ICT and/or IT concept.

 

 The EU-2020 strategy is primarily based on three mutually reinforcing economic growth models and socially oriented priorities:

 

  • “smart growth”, i.e. building a new kind of “organic economy”  based on the latest achievements in knowledge and widely using innovations;
  • “sustainable growth”, i.e. development strategies based on a more resource-efficient, greener and more competitive economy structures; and
  • “inclusive growth”, i.e. fostering a high-employment economy structures delivering, at the same time, welfare gains to broad population in societies and across the whole European region.


The ICT notion

In the new Commission’s college (2010-14), there were definite shifts in the EU policy towards “information society”, turning to “digital economy”. Hence, the EU ICT policy is coordinated by the Commission’s vice-president, Neelie Kroes (Digital Economy).

See: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/information_society/index_en.htm

 

Information and communication technologies (ICT) are the backbone of the modern economy development in the member states. However, the EU does not cover “coordination activity” in all the ICT issues. ICT encompasses the following issues, to name a few: telecommunication networks, broadband internet access and satellite communications, new communications technologies such as “3G” mobile communications and Internet telephony; digital materials, for example, cinema releases and advanced e-Health services.

 

Importance of ICT research is seen in the single largest portion (over € 9 bn) of the EU's “Seventh Framework Programme for Research” (2006-2013). Funded projects bring together scientists, companies and others such as user communities from across Europe, pooling their resources and helping carry out an EU-wide vision of how technologies should be developed.

Objectives range from very basic research (nanotechnology, photonics ...) through to using ICTs to improve quality of life (road safety, healthcare ...) and industrial competitiveness (networked services, software ...).

 

These are complemented by the Future and Emerging Technologies initiative – a nursery for incubating the innovative, high-risk ideas vital for Europe's long-term competitiveness.

 

DG Information Society & Media has also created GÉANT, linking researchers in over 3,500 research and education centres in 34 countries together across Europe. The world's most powerful research network, GÉANT creates massive economies of scale for European science and makes possible research that was previously impossible even to imagine.

See:  http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/information_society/research/index_en.htm


ICT’s standardisation issues in the EU policy

ICT –Information and Communication Technologies are in the EU policies within the spectrum of standardisation, in general and electrotechnical standardisation, in particular.

 

Therefore, the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and  the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) are collaborating presently on their standards work in the domain of information and communication technologies (ICT).

 

The ICT is only one – though important – part of the EU standardisation activities embracing a dousen of other spheres, e.g. chemistry, construction, environment, food, etc.  

 

For example, on 11 May 2011, the CEN CENELEC organizes an open workshop on “Accessibility requirements in public procurement of ICT products and services”.

For more details see:  http://www.cen.eu/isss

 

With hundreds of industry consortia at global level, technology standards are often fragmented. This environment can be perplexing for stakeholders, and resulting specifications may not always reflect European needs. To increase clarity, and ensure that European needs were met, CEN members had created a strategic group – the CEN/ISSS Forum, which reported to the technical board to set the CEN’s technical standards strategy.

 

More information is on webpages in the CEN-CENELEC ICT Forum.  

http://www.cen.eu/CEN/sectors/sectors/isss/Pages/default.aspx

 
With converging technologies in this domain, and an increasing interest to see collaboration with consortia, CENELEC has agreed to join the Forum, which is now known as the CEN-CENELEC ICT Forum. The CEN-CENELEC ICT Forum's role is advisory, but the collaborative effort will ensure greater transparency and better handling of European standards needs. The initiative will combine the ongoing efforts both organizations have in this fast-moving domain – CEN in terms of applications: such as eBusiness, eHealth, eGovernment, etc., and CENELEC for IT hardware and systems issues such as those associated with SmartHouse, alarms, cable and broadcasting receivers, etc.  


In CEN, there are formal CEN Technical Committees, CEN Focus Groups and CEN Workshops.


CEN Focus Groups aim to report on the current standards environment in a particular area of public interest, with a view to providing recommendations on necessary standardization work for the future. CEN Workshops aim to arrive at a consensus on an issue that can be published as a CEN Workshop Agreement (CWA). These deliverables may take the form of best practice agreements, codes of conduct or pre-standards, with the formal backing of CEN.

See more on: http://www.cen.eu/cen/Sectors/Sectors/ISSS/About_ISSS/Pages/default.aspx


ICT in services

Services account for between 60 and 70% of the economic activity in the EU-27. Therefore, the creation of a single market for services has become the EU’s top priority.

 

Standardization in the single market for services becomes a main priority, as standardization is increasingly being used to support the development of the single market for services. Service standards can be used to promote best practices and to spread knowledge throughout the market. Standards can also set benchmarks against which businesses can measure the quality and perfomance of their own services or the services they are purchasing, thus improving competitiveness and increasing efficiency.

 

The role of standardization in the creation of an Internal Market for services has been recognised by the Directive on Services (2006/123). The Directive encourages the development of European standards in order to faciliate compatibility between services, information to the recipient and quality of service provision.


The European Commission supports service standardization by issuing mandates (a request to develop specific standards or to propose a standardization programme) to CEN in this area. A list of mandates related to services can be found in the Documents section. 

 

See: http://www.cen.eu/cen/Sectors/Sectors/Services/Pages/default.aspx

 

CEN is developing standards in the areas of postal services, maintenance, facility management, cleaning services, funeral services, tourism, translation services, real estate services, print media analysis, business support services, customer contact centres, security services, services of hearing aid specialists, services of chiropractors, management and engineering consultancy services, aesthetic surgery, pest management services and sheltered housing.

 

In addition to standardization activities in specific sectors, there are two CEN Technical  Board Working Groups dealing with horizontal topics related to standardization in services. BT/WG 163 'Service standardization' is the platform to discuss new initiatives and coordinate service standardization activities, whereas BT/WG 192 'Qualification of personnel' looked at how to tackle the issue of qualification of personnel in standardization. More information on these groups can be found under Horizontal activities.

 

In response to Programming Mandate M/371 in the field of services, CEN carried out 11 projects to assess the benefits and feasibility of standardization in different services fields. More information on these projects can be obtained from the 'Value to services' pages.

 

EU Digital Agenda. Commission seeks information from 16 Member States on their implementation of Audiovisual Media Services Directive. The European Commission has written to 16 Member States seeking information about their implementation of the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive. The Commission has asked the Member States to reply within 10 weeks. The fact-finding letters are part of the Commission's efforts to ensure that the national media laws of all Member States correctly implement all aspects of the AVMS rules. The issues raised vary from one Member State to the other. The requests for information do not imply that the Directive has been incorrectly implemented by the Member States concerned but simply that, at this stage, the Commission has some outstanding questions concerning their implementation of the Directive.

See: IP/11/373, Brussels, 29 March 2011

 

The original "Television without Frontiers" Directive was adopted in 1989 (IP/91/898) and amended for the first time in 1997 (IP/97/552). In December 2007, an amending Directive was adopted (see IP/07/1809, MEMO/08/803). On 10 March 2010, the provisions of the original "Television without frontiers" Directive were merged with the provisions contained in the amending directives to form the codified version of the now called "Audiovisual Media Services" Directive.

 

The AVMS Directive (2010/13/EU) ensures a Single Market and legal certainty for Europe's TV and audiovisual industry by creating a level playing field for both broadcast and on-demand audiovisual media services across frontiers while preserving cultural diversity, protecting children and consumers, safeguarding media pluralism and combating racial and religious hatred. The Directive is based on the "country of origin" principle, whereby audiovisual media service providers are subject to the regulations in their country of origin only and cannot be subject to regulation in the destination country except in very limited circumstances laid down by Article 3 of the AVMS Directive – e.g. incitement to hatred). EU Member States agreed to implement the AVMS Directive into their national law by 19 December 2009 (see IP/09/1983).

 

The Commission has finished a preliminary analysis of measures notified by 16 Member States to implement the AVMS Directive in their national law: Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Malta, The Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Slovakia and the United Kingdom. On the basis of this preliminary analysis the Commission is sending follow-up fact-finding letters to verify further whether and how the different aspects such as the rules on country of origin, product placement, incitement to hatred and protection of minors have been implemented. Three Member States, Poland, Portugal and Slovenia, have not yet notified to the Commission measures to implement the AVMS Directive into their national law and are currently subject to infringement procedures (see IP/10/803).  

 

Currently the Commission is in the process of analysing the measures notified by the rest of the EU member states (Austria, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Luxemburg, Lithuania and Latvia), following which a second round of letters may be sent during the second quarter of 2011.

 

There are numerous issues related to the implementation of the Directive, which have been raised in the requests for clarification (see MEMO/11/199 for further details of these issues):

 

  • the country of origin principle and jurisdiction issues concerning audiovisual services
  • audiovisual commercial communications (including product placement and sponsorship television advertising and teleshopping);
  • basic obligations under the Directive (such as identification requirements, rules on incitement to hatred, on accessibility, balanced coverage obligations, registration of on-demand services);
  • the right of reply (anyone whose legitimate interests, have been damaged by an assertion of incorrect facts in a television programme must have a right of reply or equivalent remedies);
  • the protection of minors, promoting European works, etc.

 

Details of the AVMS Directive can be found at:

= http://ec.europa.eu/avpolicy/reg/avms/index_en.htm

Neelie Kroes' website: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/kroes/

Digital Agenda website:

= http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/digital-agenda/index_en.htm


Digital Agenda: new guidelines to address privacy concerns over use of smart tags

The European Commission signed a voluntary agreement with industry, civil society, ENISA (European Network and Information Security Agency) and privacy and data protection watchdogs in Europe to establish guidelines for all companies in Europe to address the data protection implications of smart tags (Radio Frequency Identification Devices – RFID) prior to placing them on the market.

See: IP/11/418, Brussels, 6th April 2011

 

The use of such smart tags is expanding enormously (around 1 billion in Europe in 2011) but there are widespread concerns about their privacy implications. RFIDs can be found in many objects from bus passes to smart cards that pay motorway tolls. Microelectronic devices can process data automatically from RFID tags when brought close to 'readers' that activate them, pick up their radio signal and exchange data with them. The agreement reached on 6th April 2011, forms part of the implementation of a Commission Recommendation adopted in 2009 (see IP/09/740) that inter alia indicates that when consumers buy products with smart tags, they should be deactivated automatically, immediately and free-of-charge unless the consumer agrees explicitly that they are not.

 

Commission’s opinion. "I warmly welcome a milestone agreement to put consumers' privacy at the centre of smart tag technology and to make sure privacy concerns are addressed before products are placed on the market. I'm pleased that industry is working with consumers, privacy watchdogs and others to address legitimate concerns over data privacy and security related to the use of these smart tags. This sets a good example for other industries and technologies to address privacy concerns in Europe in a practical way."

Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, See: IP/11/418.

 

The agreement with the title "Privacy and Data Protection Impact Assessment (PIA) Framework for RFID Applications", aims to ensure consumers' privacy before RFID tags are introduced on a massive scale (see IP/09/952). Around 2.8 billion smart tags are predicted to be sold in 2011, with about one third of these in Europe. But industry estimates that there could be up to 50 billion connected electronic devices by 2020.

 

RFID tags in devices such as mobile phones, computers, fridges, e-books and cars bring many potential advantages for businesses, public services and consumer products. Examples include improving product reliability, energy efficiency and recycling processes, paying road tolls without having to stop at toll booths, cutting time spent waiting for luggage at the airport and lowering the environmental footprint of products and services.

 

However RFID tags also raise potential privacy, security and data protection risks. This includes the possibility of a third party accessing your personal data (e.g. concerning your location) without your permission.

 

For example, many drivers pay tolls electronically to use roads, airport and car parks based on data collected through RFID tags on their car windscreens. Unless preventative action is taken, RFID readers found outside those specific locations could unwittingly lead to privacy leaks revealing the location of the vehicle. Many hospitals use RFID tags to track inventory and identify patients. While this technology can improve the overall quality of healthcare, the benefits must be balanced with privacy and security concerns.


Comprehensive assessment of privacy risks

Under the agreement, companies will carry out a comprehensive assessment of privacy risks and take measures to address the risks identified before a new smart tag application is introduced onto the market. This will include the potential impact on privacy of links between the data collected and transmitted and other data. This is particularly important in the case of sensitive personal data such as biometric, health or identity data.

 

The PIA Framework establishes for the first time in Europe a clear methodology to assess and mitigate the privacy risks of smart tags that can be applied by all industry sectors that use smart tags (for example, transport, logistics, the retail trade, ticketing, security and health care).

 

In particular, the PIA framework will not only give companies legal certainty that the use of their tags is compatible with European privacy legislation but also offer better protection for European citizens and consumers.

 

Background on privacy policy. In May 2009 all interested stakeholders from industry, standardisation bodies, consumers' organisations, civil society groups, and trade unions, agreed to respect a Recommendation from the European Commission laying out principles for privacy and data protection in the use of smart tags (see IP/09/740).

 

The PIA Framework established in April 2011, is part of the implementation of the 2009 Recommendation. Information gathered during the PIA framework drafting process will also make a valuable contribution to discussions on the revision of EU rules on Data Protection (see IP/10/1462 and MEMO/10/542) and on how to address the new challenges for personal data protection brought by technological developments.

 

For more information see:

= Link to the PIA framework

Digital Agenda website:

= http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/digital-agenda/index_en.htm

Neelie Kroes' website: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/kroes/

Neelie Kroes on Twitter: http://twitter.com/neeliekroeseu. and SPEECH/11/236.

 

The RFID Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) Framework sets an example for industry in Europe and in the world by taking legitimate privacy concerns of people seriously and proactively addressing them. It effectively creates a win-win situation for business and consumers, as well as a pragmatic way to ensure safeguards for privacy.

 

More specifically, it provides its future users with a comprehensive description of what should be done to deliver RFID applications that are compliant with the EU data protection Directive of 1995 and the ePrivacy Directive of 2002.

 

It is obvious that technology evolves faster than legislation. The various parties gathered today have recognised this and decided that this PIA Framework was the most effective and efficient way to protect the privacy of European citizens without stifling innovation when using RFID applications.

 

However, the PIA Framework has to prove its worth in the "real world" Only its genuine, resolute and consistent application by all the stakeholders will ensure its credibility and force.

Therefore, in line with the Opinion of the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, the interested parties shall monitor and enforce the application of this Framework and see how it can contribute to addressing the needs and expectations of society.

 

In addition, the European Commission has issued a mandate to the European Standards organisations CEN and ETSI to assess if a translation of the PIA Framework into a standard is feasible. Should the answer be positive, application engineers will get standards or European norms that can be used without further need for specific knowledge about privacy requirements.

 

The PIA Framework for RFID applications constitutes an interesting model that could be used for other similar situations or areas, such as smart metering and online behavioural advertising.

It is indeed worth stressing that the risk assessment methodology that underlies this Framework is independent of any industry and technology.

 

Therefore, the new Framework is not only the successful completion of a challenging task, "how to protect the privacy of European citizens when using RFID", it is potentially also the start of a new policy approach, in fact a new commitment to involving all stakeholders in the process of solving privacy problems.

 

Everyone knows that privacy and security challenges of the Internet are inhibiting faster adoption of information and communications technologies. We desperately need concepts and proven solutions, both technological and regulatory, to ensure that the Internet will further develop in a privacy-friendly and secure way.

 

The PIA Framework, as a cooperative product of the public-private joint venture shows the way in the right direction.


Pharmaceuticals: the EU Register of Clinical Trials is online

From 22 March, all EU citizens will have access to information on the thousands of authorised pharmaceutical clinical trials that are underway in the EU. The aim of this official public register is to make clinical research on pharmaceuticals more transparent for patients and others and to avoid unnecessary duplication of clinical trials. Every year approximately 4000 clinical trials are authorised in the EU. Since most of them last 2 to 3 years, this means that around 10 000 trials are ongoing at any given time.

 

John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, said : "The register launched today is good news for patients as it will allow them to get easier information about clinical trials going on in the EU, possibly giving access to important new treatment. It is also of great interest to healthcare professionals and carers, the research community and industry."

IP/11/339, Brussels, 22nd March 2011

 

More transparency. The Clinical Trials register contains information about clinical trials authorised in the EU, whether they take place in one Member State or several. It includes clinical trials conducted by both industry and research institutions. The information is rendered public once the clinical trial has been authorised.

 

The register also includes the clinical trials contained in a Paediatric Investigation Plan – the research and development program that aims to generate the data required to authorise a medicinal product for use in children. The clinical trials contained in such a Plan are published even if they are performed outside the EU.

 

Management of the register. The European Medicines Agency is responsible for the day-to-day management of the online register. The sponsor of the clinical trial (the responsible party for the trial) provides and updates the information in the register via the national competent authority of the country, or countries, in which it is being conducted.

 

The register is part of the overarching EU public database EudraPharm, which also centralizes information on medicines authorised by the EU, such as the patient information leaflet.

Background. Clinical trials are investigations in humans intended to discover or verify the effects of one or more investigational medicinal products.

 

The aim of a clinical trial is not necessarily to apply for a future marketing authorisation. Clinical trials can also be conducted for studies on authorised medicines – for example, a comparison between 2 authorised medicines.

 

Clinical trials performed in the EU must be conducted in accordance with the EU Clinical Trials Directive (2001/20/EC) and its implementing legislation which lays down principles and detailed guidelines for good clinical practice for investigating medicinal products for human use. This legislation aims at ensuring a high level of protection of patient safety, as well as reliability and robustness of the data generated in a trial. To this end, the legislation and implementing guidance specify various aspects of clinical trials including:

 

  • Information that must be submitted to the competent authorities and to the ethics committees;
  • Requirements for 'informed consent' of the clinical trial participants;
  • Requirements on safety monitoring and the reporting of adverse reactions;
  • Requirements regarding Good Clinical Practice, including the documentation, of the clinical trials;
  • Specific requirements regarding the products tested, including manufacturing and labelling;
  • The inspections of competent authorities and applicable procedures.

 

See: The clinical trials register:

= https://www.clinicaltrialsregister.eu/

Further information:

= http://ec.europa.eu/health/human-use/clinical-trials/index_en.htm


On-line gambling in Europe: use of IT

On-line gambling is a fast developing business in Europe, with almost 15,000 websites already identified and total annual revenues exceeding € 6 billion in 2008-09 and expected to double in size by 2013. National legal frameworks vary enormously across the EU, with different rules applying to licensing, related on-line services, payments, public interest objectives, and the fight against fraud. In order to ensure legal certainty and effective protection of EU citizens in this fast-growing cross-border service activity, it is important to evaluate how possibly differing models can co-exist within the Internal Market. The primary aim of the Green Paper consultation, launched today, is therefore to obtain a facts-based picture of the existing situation in the EU on-line gambling market and of the different national regulatory models. The Commission seeks the views of stakeholders and wishes to collect detailed information and data on key policy issues such as organisation of on-line gambling services and enforcement of applicable laws; consumer protection and other relevant public policy challenges as well as commercial communications and payment services. Contributions to the consultation, which can be submitted until 31 July 2011, will determine the need for and form of any EU follow-up action in this field. Expert workshops on specific themes will be organised to complement this consultation.

 

Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier said: "With this Green Paper, we have launched an ambitious consultation with no pre-determined views on its possible follow-up. The on-line gambling market in the EU continues to grow rapidly and generates important revenues that are sometimes channelled into good causes. Its expansion must go hand-in-hand with a determination to protect our citizens, especially minors, and to ensure that offers of these types of services within the EU are sound and well-regulated. It responds to calls from the European Parliament and the Member States for us to address these questions jointly. This consultation is not about liberalisation of the market, it is about ensuring that the market for on-line gambling services within the EU is well-regulated for all."

See: IP/11/358, Brussels, 24 March 2011


Public consultation

Societal and public order challenges arise from the on-line offer of gambling services in the EU, as well as regulatory and technical challenges. The key policy issues of the consultation are:

 

1. Definition and organisation of on-line gambling services: the Green Paper is consulting on the main advantages and/or difficulties associated with the co-existence in the EU of different national systems and practices for the licensing of on-line gambling services.

2. Related services performed and/or used by on-line gambling services providers: the Green Paper is consulting on rules and practices relating to on-line commercial communication, customer identification and regulations for payment systems for on-line gambling services and player accounts.

3. Public interest objectives:

This section of the consultation focuses on three objectives which to various degrees may be valid for Member States in terms of their national on-line gambling policies:

 

Consumer protection: the consultation aims to collect information on problem gambling and addiction and the measures pursued to protect players and prevent or limit such problems. Another key issue is how to ensure the protection of minors and other vulnerable groups. Questions raised relate to the promotion and marketing of on-line gambling and systems in place for customer identification, both for opening an account and for processing payments.

 

Public order: the Green Paper is consulting on best practices to detect and prevent fraud, money laundering and other crimes.

 

Financing of benevolent and public interest activities and events: The consultation looks at differing systems of revenue channelling for public interest activities and mechanisms for redistributing revenues from public and private on-line gambling services to the benefit of society such as the arts, education or sport.

 

4. Enforcement:

There is a considerable illegal market for on-line gambling services in the EU. It is estimated that for each licensed on-line gambling website worldwide, there are more than five websites offering on-line poker or sports betting without having a licence. An illegal cross-border market is currently accessible to consumers, due either to de facto tolerance or because of a lack of effective enforcement. That is why the consultation seeks to evaluate current enforcement systems and cross-border cooperation between Member States and gather factual information on the efficiency of the existing blocking systems (such as payment blocking or domain name filtering).

 

Next steps. Responses to the Green Paper are valid until 31 July 2011. The information and data received at the end of this process will be thoroughly assessed by the Commission in determining follow-up action.

 

For more information see:

= MEMO/11/186

= A staff working document accompanying this Green paper is available on the Commission's website: http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/services/gambling_en.htm

 

Common challenges need common responses: IT skills. Mobility and matching skills and labour needs are common challenges across the EU. Even at a time of crisis, some employers are struggling to fill vacancies because they cannot find people with the right skills. Not only does this highlight important skills shortages, but also that there are persistent mismatches between the skills available and the needs of the labour market.

 

According to the EU data, this is likely to get worse in the future: “in five years, we could see a shortage of up to 700,000 ICT specialists; in ten years, estimates suggest a deficit of up to 2 million staff in the health sector”. See: Speech/11/125, László Andor, EU Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, "The free movement of workers – an opportunity for all". 25.02.2011.

 

Jobs occupied by highly-qualified people are expected to rise in the EU by almost 16 million by 2020. At the same time, those held by low-skilled workers will decline by around 12 million. Yet too many people do not have the competences needed to succeed in the job market and as a result face increasing difficulty in adapting to newly-emerging skills needs.

 

Europe-2020 strategy sets out a general employment rate target of 75% by 2020. Some argue that this target is not going to be reached if the EU did not boost employment through job creation, as well as strengthening the employability of the existing EU workforce.

 

Health service through ICT’s assistance: European ideas. The European Commission's vision is to tight-up the health care sevice with science, research and innovations. That would help to address an active and healthy ageing, which is another top priority in the EU’s list of innovation issues. These ideas were acknowledged at European symposium devoted to perspectives in developing practical health care solutions in Brussels at the end of January 2011.  

 

 Modern statistics shows that about 50 per cent of European adults tried to search online health information. It makes sense, once health conditions have been diagnosed, patients turned to web-sources to find out more through accessing tailored information and advice in the net.

 

Modern technology – in particular ICT – greatly empowers citizens; the EU leaders are aware that it assissts to maintain a quality health and care system for all Europeans. While there is great research and important pilot projects, the fact remains that technology is not yet empowering most Europeans to manage their health. 

 

Europe is facing a great problem, i.e. ageing population issues; increasing health costs and decreasing number of doctors, occasional failures to radically improve the ICT use could spell disaster for Europeans.

 

The EU challenge is to combine modern technology and health care. Modern wellbeing means that at the click of a mouse one can avoid time-consuming visits to the doctor through telemonitoring and/or webcam check-ups. While these can be the simplest of tasks, such little changes often make the most difference to a busy life. Extended services should be able to track the progress of lab tests, or even request a second opinion.

 

 Short history. About ten years ago the European Commission started so-called “eEurope project” (2002) aimed at stimulating secure services, applications and content of various information, based on a widely available broadband infrastructure.

 

See: Commission’s communication: e-Europe 2005: an information society for all. 

 

Later on, the Commission empowered the European Standardization bodies (CEN, CENELEC and ETSI) to develop necessary standards. In 2009 they agreed on recommending standards relevant to e-Health, i.e. the standardization mandate "403".

 

See: 2009 ICT Standardisation Work Programme.

 

In the present Commission’s Health Strategy (2008-13) a framework and objectives to the European work on core health issues are clearly stipulated with the aim on integrating health in all policies and on addressing global health threats. The strategic objectives include the main priority, i.e. “Dynamic Health Systems and New Technologies” among three other themes.

At the end of 2009, on 1 December, the Council adopted conclusions on eHealth system.

See: website: John Dalli, Commissioner for Health & Consumer policy.

 

Computers to assist health care. According to the Council’s conclusions the present Union’s eHealth strategy is based on the following approach to the problem:

 

  • eHealth refers to tools and services using information and communication technologies (ICTs) that can improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and management;
  • eHealth can benefit the entire community by improving access to care and quality of care and by making the health sector more efficient.

 

It includes information and data sharing between patients and health service providers, hospitals, health professionals and health information networks; electronic health records; telemedicine services; portable patient-monitoring devices, operating room scheduling software, robotized surgery and blue-sky research on the virtual physiological human.

See: Council conclusions on "Safe and efficient healthcare through eHealth".    

 

Therefore, the EU goals in eHealth are presented in the following way:

 

- to improve citizens' health by making life-saving information available – between countries when necessary – using eHealth tools

- to increase healthcare quality and access by making eHealth part of health policy and coordinating EU countries' political, financial and technical strategies

- to make eHealth tools more effective, user-friendly and widely accepted by involving professionals and patients in strategy, design and implementation. 

 

See additional: http://ec.europa.eu/health/ehealth/policy/index_en.htm

 

In January 2011 a new round of communications to improve the eHealth system involving R&D and innovations took place leading to the discussions at the European symposium.

See: Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, Speech 11/19, 17 January 2011 “eHealth – empowering citizens and improving care”.

 

Present policy quidelines: Commission’s approach. The Commission is of the opinion that given the right information, advice, and equipment, most people should be able to monitor their conditions and lifestyle. They should be able to do that in confidence, security and comfort. And in those ways technology should help to build enhanced relationships with doctors or phisitians. This is one of the keys to a better quality of life; it is fundamental to the general “European idea”: a better life in a preferred environment be it a home, the place of work, or the place of retirement.

 

Certainly, information technology does not replace the "human touch"; it is simply a way to give people what they want. It helps doctors and carers fulfil their mission and help the system avoid unnecessary hospital stays.

 

 The EU approach will allow a better respond to the challenges facing health and social care systems, support citizens, especially our older generation, and the economy.

 

In the UK, for example, health officials believe ICT enabled self-care could potentially reduce GP visits by 40% and hospital admissions by 50%. Length of hospital stays and days off work could also be reduced by 50%. As a result, people will have more time for themselves.

 

The Commission intends to create a health and care system based on wellbeing, not just fighting diseases. At the recent “Ambient Assisted Living Forum” in Denmark, one could see how elderly people loving the physiotherapy techniques were taught and consulted via video. For example, an elderly lady with a chronic condition was living independently and happily in her own home, thanks to broadband and ICT devices. Another challege is to enable people to enjoy travelling while having their medical retirement.  The idea is to stimulate the “epSOS pilot project”, which is validating and improving patient summaries and ePrescription solutions across borders. Success in this project will improve the lives of the hundreds of millions of Europeans who travel within the EU. The simple act of accessing a vital piece of information – such as an allergy or chronic condition – can literally save lives. It can also mean peace of mind for an elderly person with a chronic disease – allowing them to travel across borders without unnecessary anxiety.

 

The epSOS project will soon be extended from 12 to 23 countries. The Commission’s next step is to take on a wide agreement and ensure a minimum set of patient data across all 27 countries.

The Commission signed at the end of December 2010, a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on cooperation in health related information and communications technologies. The MoU, which builds upon the work of epSOS, is a confirmation of an important step in tackling market fragmentation by creating global conditions for common approaches to interoperability and standardisation.

 

The Ccommission combines several EU policy directions, e.g. the "Digital Agenda for Europe" and the pilot European Innovation Partnership (EIP) for Active and Healthy Ageing. These efforts will join the member states’ efforts to both improve technology and pull down the legal and organisational barriers that are preventing progress among the member states.

 

The EU-2020 strategy aims at achieving widespread deployment of telemedicine services. As part of the EU Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme, the Commission calls for a minimum common set of patient data that can be accessed or exchanged electronically across member states. For example, the EU is aiming to reinforce the Ambient Assisted Living Joint Programme, following the encouraging findings of its first interim evaluation. This is in line with the objectives of the pilot European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing whose essential aim is to increase quality of life, by bridging gaps between research and innovation with large scale deployments.                                             

 

E-commerce and the EU’s online economy: urgent steps to prosper. Difficulties in verifying people's identities and signatures represent a significant factor holding back the development of the EU's online economy. Safe electronic signatures and electronic identification (eID) can be an important tool to enable both users and providers to rely on secure, trustworthy and easy-to-use online services in all EU member states. Commission launches public consultation on eSignatures and eIdentification in 2011.

 

In order to tackle low levels of consumer and business confidence in online transactions, the European Commission is asking citizens and other interested parties how electronic signatures and electronic identification (eID) and authentication can help the development of the European Digital Single Market.

 

The results of this consultation will feed into the Commission's review of the existing eSignature Directive and the preparation of a planned initiative on the mutual recognition of electronic identification and authentication. Boosting e-commerce, e-business, and making it easier to undertake administrative procedures online in the Single Market are important aspects of the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200). The online consultation runs until 15 April 2011.

 

Commission’s opinion on e-commerce. Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda, said in the ceremony to start European discussions: "I welcome everybody's views on how we can best verify people's identities and signatures when we buy, sell or undertake administrative procedures online that need to be highly secure. I want to help all Europeans get online without feeling that they will fall victim to data frauds or scams. "

See: IP/11/198, Brussels, 18 February 2011.


Consultation in progress

Low levels of consumer and business confidence when making transactions online are one factor holding back the development of the EU's online economy. Relying on secure, trustworthy and easy to use online services is vital for a strong and healthy European Digital Single Market. To tackle these issues, the Digital Agenda for Europe announced a review of the eSignature Directive (1999/93/EC) and an initiative on the mutual recognition of eIdentification and eAuthentication.

 

Everyone is invited to participate in the consultation by sharing their views on how electronic identification, authentication and signatures can contribute to deliver the European Digital Single Market and on possible measures to create optimal conditions to stimulate its progress.

 

The Commission wants to discuss:

 

  • citizens' and businesses' expectations of EU rules on electronic signatures, identification and authentication. In particular, the general usefulness of eSignatures and eID user and specific business sector needs, socio-economic benefits, fields of application, potential additional trust-building services (e.g. time stamping), mobile usage and the legal recognition of electronic consent;
  • the ICT sector's view on how eSignatures can be best tailored to face the forthcoming challenges triggered by technological progress. Interested parties are asked to express their views on existing barriers, security requirements, potential grading of security levels, and expectations on standardisation;
  • the common set of principles which should guide the mutual recognition of eIdentification and eAuthentication in Europe, as well as considerations for economies of scale by allowing national eID systems, benefiting users across EU borders, and cross-sector uses in the public and private sectors; and
  • the potential contribution of research and innovation to the development of new eIdentification and eSignatures authentication, such as alternatives to Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) currently in use for the easy management of electronic signatures, and eID-cards.

The Commission will analyse consultations as part of its review of the eSignature Directive and the preparation of an initiative on the mutual recognition of eIdentification and eAuthentication.

 

Pilot project. The Commission is also already supporting a large scale pilot project called "STORK" (Secure idenTity acrOss boRders linKed) to enable cross-border recognition of eID systems and easy access to public services in 18 European countries. The project aims to enable EU citizens to prove their identity and use national electronic identity systems (passwords, ID cards, mobile phones and others) throughout the EU, not just in their home country.

More on “STORK” see:  https://www.eid-stork.eu/  

 

Further information on the abovementioned issues:

= The consultation document:

http://ec.europa.eu/yourvoice/ipm/forms/dispatch?form=eid4&lang=en

= Neelie Kroes' website:

http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/kroes/

= Digital Agenda website:

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/digital-agenda/index_en.htm

 

See also: a “one stop shop” to all European Information Society policies, activities, news and more from across the European Commission, in the Newsroom Update of Europe's Information Society: Thematic Portal.

 

= ERIS conference. The annual conference is devoted to progress made in regional deployment and uptake of broadband at the European level. The ERIS is an association of European regions which want to accelerate the impact of ICT on the quality of life of their citizens, business profitability and government processes (12-14 April 2011 in Krakow, Poland).

 







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