Neelie Kroes: Digital Agenda and Open Data

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Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Prime Minister,

It is a great honour for me to be here today, at the occasion of the presentation of the Action Plan of the Slovak Republic in favour of Open Democracy. I would like to congratulate all those involved in this project, starting with the Prime Minister and the Plenipotentiary for the Development of the Civil Society. But really all the stakeholders involved should be congratulated and all the participants today. Well done!

The Action Plan is a promising start but it is by no means the end of the road and I look forward to an ambitious implementation of the principles of transparency and accountability that underlie this programme. What is needed, in Slovakia like in the rest of Europe, is to embrace a culture change in the way we approach the public sector. The challenge is real.

Today’s economic crisis is a testing time for our democracies. Just look at the amount of protests in our streets across Europe. We need to bring back the trust in markets, in governments. Especially for young people who are massively left aside at the moment. One way to create trust is by increasing transparency in government. Citizens will be more confident if they can verify that the people they have elected inform them about what they do and how they do it.

Europe is facing a digital transformation. There are so many ways that this is helping our economy and society. In 2011 alone, around 170 million smartphones, 20 million tablets and 60 million computers were bought in Europe. Internet users in Europe are soon reaching 400 million. There are more than 700 million people on Facebook and close to 8 million people are following Lady Gaga on Twitter worldwide. But the digital revolution is not just about having cool new gadgets and new ways to interact. These tools are changing the way we can find information and express ourselves. They can rejuvenate politics and support democracy itself.

We’ve seen an extreme and welcome example in the Arab Spring – where online social media helped protestors find an exit from tyranny.

But even here in the EU, digital tools can help connect the government with the governed. Whether it’s using Twitter to see how your MP or MEP is representing you. Or using e-Government to access public services more easily and cheaply – going online to register a business, enrol for university or access healthcare. Digital tools are powerful instrument to find about what is happening and to debate about politics. But this requires that public administrations engage in transparency and open their doors. This is a democratic project for Europe and for Slovakia too.

Let me underline one initiative that I am supporting to make digital technology work for governance and transparency: by opening up public data. In the digital age, data takes on a whole new value, and with new technology we can do great things with it. Opening it up is not just good for transparency, it also stimulates great web content, and provides the fuel for a future economy.

That’s why I say that data is the new oil for the digital age. How many other ways could stimulate a market worth 70 billion euros a year, without spending big budgets? Not many, I’d say.

So we are planning to shake up how public authorities share data. We have recently proposed amendments to the Public Sector Information Directive: these would make it cheaper, simpler and more automatic for you to use and re-use public data. Here to read more.

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