Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lisbon to the People; via Broadband and Web 2.0

The "Lisbon Strategy" alias "the strategy for growth and jobs" is resulting in growth, does create jobs, but is not something that the Europeans would care about. I tried to run "lisbon strategy" through Google Trends and the result was:

Your terms - "lisbon strategy" - do not have enough search volume to show graphs.

Translation: nobody cares. Very few people know that the strategy sets targets such as investing 3% of GDP in R&D, that it calls for 70% employment, for 25% reduction in administrative burden or 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The strategy will be updated in spring 2008 under the Slovenian presidency. The discussions about the update started earlier this year. Portugal (as the current presidency) and Slovenia (as the next) established good cooperation. On Tuesday the Commission published its view on the past and future of the Strategy that is taking many of those discussions into account.

As a very early adopter of the Internet, contributor to some of its earliest services, computer geek and blogger I particularly welcome the following:

information and communication technologies, driven by high-speed internet are key to raising productivity and stimulating innovation in Europe. Too many small businesses and citizens are not yet connected to high-speed internet which hampers their development and their innovation potential. Alongside increasing competition in telecoms markets, national plans are needed to ensure that, by 2010, 30% of Europe's population uses high-speed internet.


Member States should ... as part of their National reform Programs, set national targets for high-speed internet usage aiming at a 30% penetration rate of the EU population and connection of all schools by 2010.

This is the kind of goal setting the internet generation understands! It will support the web 2.0 type of open innovation, living labs etc. etc. It shows the understanding that the IP infrastructure is essential. If one wants to develop the so-much-talked-about services, one needs good infrastructure to build on. Germany built the highways. BMWs, Audis and Mercedeses followed.

One should not be modest in the interpretation of the word "high-speed". Member states should encourage investment into new fiber optic networks that allow for multimedia services, video on demand and HDTV. High speed should mean 20 mbits or more.

Interpreted as 2 mbits, which is what the good old telcos can provide hands down, will not stimulate investment. Regardless if they are split into a company that is offering the dated copper to anyone who cares to become a virtual ISP and competes with other ISPs on the same old lines. 2 mbits would not stimulate the building of alternative infrastructures and competition among infrastructures. Also, taking into account that Slovenia today stands at 26% broadband internet access, 30% for EU is not very ambitious.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Lisbon Strategy: The Case for Creativity

One of the themes somehow neglected in the Lisbon strategy to date has been creativity. Indeed there has been much discussion about knowledge, r&d and innovation, but creativity is more than this. At some point I'd like to write a longer post about this, however, for now just let me share some slides.

The deck shared is a basis for three presentations I did lately, one last week at the Future of Europe Summit in Andorra, one today for Heads of delegations of the Commission to member states and one at the Pre-presidency conference, both in Ljubljana.

The slides also include a discussion on the priority areas of the updated Lisbon Strategy, a view on its structure etc.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Council on Scientific Information in the Digital Age: Too Little Too Late

I have been involved in publishing on the World-Wide-Web since 1992 and with scholarly publishing since 1995, also as a co-editor of a peer-reviewed journal ITcon and a coordinator of a framework program SciX, that was studying the topic in depth.

The bottom line is that in the scientific publishing process there is a decreasing value added by the publishers. The research is funded by the governments or the industry, performed by the researchers, papers are written and reviewed by them for free, only at the very end a publisher comes along that takes over the copyright, publishes the work and sells the journal at great expense to the community that created and edited the content for free.

At the Competitiveness (Internal market, Industry and Research) Council meeting in Brussels, on 22 and 23 November 2007 a conclusion has been reached on scientific information in the digital age: access, dissemination and preservation. It recognizes:
the major contribution of universities, international research organisations, research bodies, libraries and other public organisations, as well as of scientific publishers, to the scientific dissemination process;
It is years late in recognising
that new, Internet-based dissemination models have triggered a major debate involving all concerned stakeholders on access to and dissemination of scientific information and in particular on access to peer-reviewed scientific articles" and that "over the past years scientific libraries' capacity to provide researchers with access to a wide range of publications has been affected by rising overall prices of scientific journals (including electronic distribution of publications).
The Coucil underlines
the importance of scientific output resulting from publicly funded research being available on the Internet at no cost to the reader under economically viable circumstances, including delayed open access;
Why just no cost to the reader. Why only delayed open access. This section should underline "the importance of scientific output resulting from publicly funded research being available on the Internet at no cost under economically viable circumstances, including open access".

There is a recognition that the process is not transparent and public funds are used inefficiently:
increasing the transparency of the contractual terms of "big deals", and exploring the possibilities for funding bodies, research institutions and scientific publishers from different Member States to work together in order to achieve economies of scale and efficient use of public funds by demand aggregation.
Rather than making a clear statement that results of EU funded research should be published using open access paradigm, the suggestion to the commission is quite watered down:
experiment with open access to scientific data and publications resulting from projects funded by the EU Research Framework Programmes in order to assess the appropriateness of adopting specific contractual requirements;
Experiment ... in order to assess the appropriateness of adopting specific contractual requirements. Now this is a good example of the Brussels parlance!

The document invites member states to:
assessing in a systematic way conditions affecting access to scientific information, including:
  • the way in which researchers exercise their copyrights on scientific articles;
  • the level of investments in the dissemination of scientific information as compared to total investments in research;
  • the use of financial mechanisms to improve access, such as refunding VAT for digital journal subscriptions to libraries;
Indeed the first two points make sense, however, the idea to lift VAT for digital journals is the wrong message. If we mean open access, if we mean free, there is no VAT. Refunding VAT means simply subsidizing commercial publishers!

In all, its good to see the Council take interest in open access publishing. However, one can clearly feel that someone managed to dilute a potentially powerful documents. As it stands it hardly brings anything new. Most of the other actions suggested, such as "debating", "experimenting", "exploring", "bringing together stakeholders" are either long overdue or have been done already.

In the context of the Lisbon strategy that should be driving Europe towards a knowledge based economy, one should note that the explosion of the internet based technologies in the US have been made possible by the (1) open access to software, (2) open standards and (3) freely available scientific articles on the subject. The cited document brings nothing like that to Europe.

Monday, November 26, 2007

About this blog

Soon after I became a government minister in March 2007 I started a blog in Slovenian language. A very natural decision, because I have been a computer geek since early 1980s. I blog to share my thoughts about politics, science and technology, research and development, sustainable development, day to day life etc. And also to get feedback from the citizens, sometimes even from colleagues-politicians.

In the first half of 2008, Slovenia is taking over the presidency of the EU, more specifically, it will preside over the European Council. Ministers of our government are involved in the preparations and will be involved in the presidency. So there is much to blog about in English as well.

The European Union, as an abstract entity, is aware of the problem of communicating the policies to the citizens. But the EU are also very concrete people with ideas, thoughts and worries. As a minister in a member state government I am one of them. By taking an open, direct, two way approach to communicating I hope to contribute to a better understanding of EU policies.

I am writing this blog myself, in person, without consultation with the PR office, without clearance from offical spokespersons. This blog is not providing an official view of the EU, or of the government of Slovenia. It is personal, but about public issues: