Europe increases internet use but still needs to close the digital gap

The 2017 Digital Economy and Society Index shows that the EU is making progress but the gap between top digital players and lower-performing countries is still too wide. More efforts and investments are needed to make the most of the Digital Single Market. The use of e-government as a tool to fight corruption is still overlooked.

The European Commission published last week (3 March) the results of the 2017 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) on the performance of the 28 Member States in a wide range of areas, from connectivity and digital skills to the digitisation of businesses and public services.

"Europe is gradually becoming more digital but many countries need to step up their efforts. All Member States should invest more to fully benefit from the Digital Single Market,” said Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market. “We do not want a two-speed digital Europe. We should work together to make the EU a digital world leader."

DESI is a composite index published every year by the European Commission, measuring progress of EU countries towards a digital economy and society. It brings together a set of relevant indicators in five policy areas on Europe's current digital policy mix.

Connectivity Fixed broadband, mobile broadband, broadband speed and prices
Human capital Basic skills and internet use, advanced skills and development
Use of internet Citizens' use of content, communication and online transactions
Integration of digital technology Business digitisation and e-commerce
Digital public services e-government

Three clusters of Member States were created based on the DESI score.

High performing countries are the 9 EU Member States with the highest DESI score. These are Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Estonia.

Medium performing countries have close to average DESI scores. These are Austria, Germany, Malta, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal, France, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Latvia.

Low performing countries are the 9 Member States at the bottom of the list. These are Slovakia, Hungary, Cyprus, Poland, Croatia, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania.

European champions in Digital Public Services in 2016 are Estonia, Finland and the Netherlands. This dimension measures the digitisation of public services, focusing on e-government.

E-government can lead to efficiency gains for the public administration and to the delivery of better services for citizens and enterprises. However, only 34% of internet users submit forms to their public administration online instead of handing in a paper copy.

E-government promotes transparency and accountability in the public administration. The information published on websites enables citizens to held officials and politicians accountable. It enables citizens to track their applications to public bodies and provides them with input for more informed decisions.

What the European Commission seems to have overlooked is that e-government can also be used as a tool for reducing the risk of administrative (petty) corruption in the daily interactions between civil servants and citizens or enterprises. This can be done by putting basic public services on-line, thereby cutting the connection between corrupt civil servants and the public.

 M. Apelblat

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