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Information and communications technology is credited with half of all productivity growth in Europe over the last 15 years, which is why the European Commission is pushing for a "digital Single Market".

Outlining the Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said the lack of a single market was one reason why Europe was lagging behind US and Asian rivals. Spending on research and development is also lower - Europe spends just 40 per cent of what the US does on R&D.

Access to high-speed networks is also worse - one per cent of Europeans can access fibre-networks versus 12 per cent of Japanese people and 15 per cent of South Koreans.

The Eurocrats seem particularly irked by the fact that 30 per cent of Europeans have never used the net at all.

"Everyone, young and old, irrespective of social background, is entitled to the knowledge and skills they need to be part of the digital era since commerce, public, social and health services, learning and political life is increasingly moving online," it declares. Whether they want it or not.

So the target is for all Europeans to have access to 30 Mbps or faster services by 2020. It is hoped that half of households will have access to 100 Mbps or better by the same year.

The first aim of the Agenda is to stimulate the market for music downloads - by simplifying copyright clearance and licensing and collective rights management.

Next is a move to a single market for online payments - only eight per cent of EU online shoppers buy from a country other than their own. 60 per cent of attempted cross-border transactions fail due to non-acceptance of credit cards or legal restrictions.

The Commission will also seek to modernise e-signature rules next year to make cross border electronic trading easier. The EU is also looking to strengthen data protection laws.

The Commission sees a virtuous circle of investment sparked by the provision of attractive online services, which sparks demand for faster networks. These networks then spark demand for further services.

More details are available here. ®

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