They don't call Europe the Old World for nothing. Sometimes old European ways of doing things are not at all consistent with the realities of the Internet. Take France for example: There's a union for people who sell antiques and vintage stuff at flea markets professionally. To prevent unfair competition against these pros, the law says individuals are only allowed to sell at flea markets twice a year. This union sued eBay because they had the nerve to let just anybody sell stuff to just anybody whenever they felt like it
That's just one example from only one sector, in only one old country among many, all of them trying to preserve their way of life and protect their people and cultures, while struggling to stay relevant (or become relevant, some might say) in the digital era.
The Old World is making an effort, though. There's LeWeb, Europe's largest, and the world's second largest Internet conference, which takes place every December in Paris. When you look at the big names who'll be on the big stage at LeWeb next month, it's hard to disagree with Ben Rooney, technology editor of The Wall Street Journal, who said it "appears to be a European conference about U.S. success." But most of the little names there will be European. European startups, like any others, need role models in order to aspire and achieve. And just because LeWeb seems like an excuse to transport the Valley to Paris today doesn't mean it will always be that way.
European governments are addressing the challenges created by the Internet as well. The European Commission recently published the Digital Agenda for Europe, a set of objectives for the year 2020 based on the results of the Europe's Digital Competitiveness Report 2010. These are the actions areas of the Agenda:
1.Digital Single Market: Today in the EU, 60% of cross-border online shopping attempts fail because of technical or legal reasons such as refusal of non-domestic credit cards.
2.Interoperability and Standards: Ensure that new IT devices, applications, data repositories and services interact seamlessly anywhere - just like the Internet.
3.Trust and Security: A coordinated European response to cyber-attacks and reinforced rules on personal data protection.
4.Very Fast Internet: Download rates of 30 Mbps for all surfers and 100 Mbps for at least 50% of Web users by 2020.
5.Research and Innovation: EU investment in ICT research is still less than half US levels. Need to increase coordination and eliminate Europe's fragmented efforts.
6.Enhancing e-skills: Over 50% of Europeans use the Internet daily, but 30% have never used it at all.
7.ICT for Social Challenges: Focus on ICTs capability to reduce energy consumption, support aging citizens' lives, revolutionize health services, and deliver better public services.
8.International: Work towards favorable external trade conditions for digital goods and services, e.g. develop a stronger partnership to deliver market access and investment opportunities, reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers at global level.
Now, many are skeptical about the ability of this quintessential bureaucracy to accomplish much. There are too many chefs, each with a secret recipe he doesn't want to share or change. But at least they've identified problem areas, which may enable the private sector to drive the change. In any case, the Digital Competitiveness Report is an excellent source of information for anyone interested in the ICT challenges Europe is facing today.
Photo by Yaniv Golan