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E-minister finds his role in Europe

Talking to its most IT-illiterate countries

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E-minister Douglas Alexander has found his niche in Europe - hosting a conference for its most IT-illiterate countries.

Mr Alexander today opened the first e-commerce conference with former Eastern Europe countries - Estonia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Hertzogovina, Albania and Poland - in London. The aim of the conference is to "ensure a successful and prosperous European knowledge economy".

Since taking over the post in May, Mr Alexander has faced some criticism for his phantom-like behaviour. He was even criticised by a PR agency this month for cancelling at very short notice his appearance at an event in Yorkshire where a number of industry figures and IT journalists were expected.

Mr Alexander had no knowledge of the Internet economy before being awarded the e-commerce ministerial post for his loyalty to chancellor Gordon Brown. It wasn't until four months later that he made his first public appearance.

Since then the e-commerce minister has been visible only in official press releases embracing, welcoming, trying or joining various initiatives or opportunities, or reading DTi-written speeches at conferences. Although he is reportedly getting to grips with the industry of which he is the government representative, he is still far from comfortable with the material.

Talking to Eastern European countries, Mr Alexander should be on safer ground. They are among the few countries in the Western world that consistently come below the UK in independent studies on the Internet economy.

In a recent report into e-government across the world, the UK came 19th out of 27 countries reviewed. Four of the eight countries beneath the UK are at the e-Europe conference.

Mr Alexander is reported to have said at the conference: "Early adoption of the knowledge economy will contribute to improving the competitiveness of the countries of former Eastern Europe, and therefore Europe as a whole. Greater prosperity in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe benefits everyone on the continent through greater opportunities for trade and investment.

"It is important to spread the Internet and e-commerce as widely as possible. There has been recognition from the start that the pursuit of economic reform in Europe must involve both the current member states and the future member states - and this initiative reflects that insight. Sharing the UK's experience and achievements will help build the whole of Europe as a prosperous knowledge economy."

Much was then made about the eEurope+ initiative, which is "a commitment to embrace the challenges of a knowledge economy by developing strategies for the information society" and comprises the three admirable objectives:

  1. A cheaper, faster, secure Internet
  2. Investing in people and skills
  3. Stimulate the use of the Internet

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