THESSALONIKI – The rapid expansion of new technology throughout the European Union has brought about major lifestyle changes – in education, in the workplace, state administration and in interpersonal relationships. Roughly 15 years after the Internet and e-mail spread across Europe, in 2002 the number of Internet users in the 15 member states passed the 135-million mark, books became the most popular product sold via e-commerce, and hotels have also benefited from Internet bookings. The Internet is now accessed by 80 percent of European businesses; half of them have their own website. In 2002, a quarter of all businesses made purchases and 10 percent made sales online. In the home, the Internet has changed people’s habits – two-thirds of Europeans who have a PC use it to send and receive e-mails and as a source of information and entertainment. A majority use it to get information on goods and services or to read newspapers and magazines. These figures come from «Statistical Data on the Information Society in Europe,» a report by the EU’s statistics agency, Eurostat, which was processed by the European Center of Communication, Information and Culture (EKEPP) based in Thessaloniki. They analyzed the key factors in the study that indicate the great importance of the new technologies and determine to what extent they create new conditions and opportunities for growth, prosperity and quality of life for the work force, businesses and private individuals. Percentages Greece is lagging behind, but between 2001 and 2002 it had the highest increase in the number of Internet users (43 percent) among the 15 EU member states. According to EKEPP: * In 2002, the proportion of households in Greece with Internet access was just one in eight, compared to one in two in Denmark and the UK. * The percentage of computer science graduates in the EU work force fell slightly, by 1.7 percent, in 2002. * In 2001-2002, the number of computers in the EU was equal to 31 percent of the population and three member states reported 50 computers for every 100 people: Denmark (58 in 2002), Sweden (56 in 2001) and Luxembourg (52 in 2001). Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal were the only countries that reported an average of less than 20 computers per 100 population. * In 2002, there was a 15 percent increase in the number of users compared to the previous year. Nevertheless, there was a slower rate of increase in the number of Internet users, which was 27 percent in 2001. After Greece, the greatest increase in the number of users between 2001 and 2002 was in Portugal (28 percent), the UK (21 percent and France (20 percent) although the total percentage in Greece and Portugal was still particularly low in comparison with the other EU member states. In most EU countries, fewer than half of all households had Internet access in 2002. In Denmark and the UK, 56 and 50 percent respectively had access. Less than one-fifth of households had access in Spain (17 percent), Portugal (16 percent) and Greece (12 percent). Nearly half the EU population aged 16-74 had used a computer during the three months prior to the survey, although there were major discrepancies between EU members, ranging from less than a quarter in Greece (24 percent) to more than three-quarters in Sweden (76 percent). There is also a considerable discrepancy between men and women, for although overall Internet use increased for both sexes between 2002 and 2003, there was a 10 percent gap between the two sexes. Educational level also played a major role and the gap between levels is widening. An average 53 percent of the EU work force used a computer on the job in 2002; in Greece, Spain and Portugal, the figure ranged from 30 to 40 percent, in Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, it was over 70 percent. A lack of expert personnel adversely affects the rate at which businesses and economies generally grow. While the number of computer science graduates as a percentage of the total EU work force rose by 0.4 percent between 1999 and 2001, there was a 0.1 percent reduction in 2002. The highest percentage of these graduates in the total work force (over 2 percent) was observed in those countries where the use of new communication and information technologies is also high, that is, in Denmark, Finland and the UK, and even higher in the Netherlands and Sweden (over 3 percent of the work force). The highest percentage of businesses with Internet access is in Finland (96 percent), followed by Sweden and Denmark (95 percent). In the UK, nearly all businesses that have Internet access also have their own website. Larger firms are more likely to buy and sell online than small and medium-sized ones. E-commerce has created new models of buying and selling and has redefined the relationship between buyer and seller. In recent years, businesses and individuals have tended more toward ordering and buying rather than selling goods and services over the net. Hotels and other hospitality services made the most (49 percent) online sales. EKEPP is a non-profit organization under the aegis of the Macedonia-Thrace and Foreign ministries and the European Commission. Considered the only inter-regional center in Greece with such a broad range of EU data, it also covers neighboring Balkan states. «A year ago, we began publishing selected analyses of special surveys in the EU, in an attempt to make this information widely known and understood,» said Loukas Ananikas, its president and general secretary at the Macedonia-Thrace Ministry.