Making the digital leap forward

Announcing its digital strategy for the 2006-2013 period yesterday, the government outlined a vision for the much-needed, yet hitherto elusive, digital leap forward. Greece has been forced to invest its digital hopes in the 2006-2013 period, after expectations for 2000-2006 fell short. Results during that period were a big disappointment, despite pompous pledges made by the former Socialist government of Costas Simitis. A year before the Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) expired, Greece had absorbed less than a tenth of EU funds for investment in digital technology. Greece has already lost a lot of ground. It ranks near the bottom among the old 15 EU members in the use of new technologies. Taking into consideration Greece’s poor investment in the education and research and development (R&D) sectors, the reason for Greece’s delays becomes immediately clear. Simitis’s eight-year rule saw no shortage of empty promises about modernization. But it’s hard to see how modernization could have happened when the country was doing virtually nothing to advance the so-called information society and when it was last in the EU in terms of spending on research and education. These days, a strong performance in these sectors is the safest way to boost economic competitiveness. Technology, research and education are all sine qua nons of modernization. Should Greece maintain its poor record in these areas, any structural changes – such as labor market reforms and flexible eight-hour work weeks – or fiscal reforms introduced by the government will only have short-term effects. In fact, these reforms could gradually become politically ineffective unless there is progress in the country’s technological infrastructure aimed at promoting – at least in certain sectors – a more productive and competitive modern Greek economy. This will, in turn, produce more wealth for redistribution. There is no real dilemma here. Greece will either make the long-delayed digital leap forward or it will be mortified by international competition.

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