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'Innovative and unique' e-Government scheme

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European flagsA conference in Brussels was told that an "innovative and unique" e-Government scheme has the potential to be replicated in Europe and elsewhere.

The European Commission has said that 38% of the EU-28 population is defined as ‘non-believer’, that is, those with a "systematic distrust" of the public administrative structure, which, says the executive, has "failed" in delivering efficient and transparent public services to the citizens.

The conference on e-Government on Wednesday heard that one example of "good practice" is a pioneering scheme in Azerbaijan where an e-Government scheme has proved a "huge success" with a satisfaction rate of over 90%.

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The World Bank defines ‘e-Government’ as “the use by government agencies of information technologies that have the ability to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government."

It says: "These technologies can serve a variety of different ends: better delivery of government services to citizens, improved interactions with business and industry, citizen empowerment through access to information, or more efficient government management."

However, the conference, organized by le Centre d’Informatique pour la Région Bruxelloise (CIRB), was told that the ability to use technological means in public administration and in the delivery of public services is "not yet consolidated" and "it seems that in Europe “ICT has lost some of its steam."

One solution, it was said, is the "digitilization" of public services which might help bridge the "digital divide".

The meeting heard that some people are still mistrustful of so-called "e-government" services, preferring personal contact when filling in forms and carrying out other formalities.

However, the success of some schemes designed to promote "digitilization" of services could help make the delivery of public administration "more efficient and transparent," it was said.

Francesco Grillo, of the Italian think tank "Vision", which has conducted an in-depth study  into current e-Government schemes throughout Europe, told the conference, "There is enormous potential for this and it is something all governments should consider."

The meeting, at the headquarters of CIRB, was presented with the findings of the study by Vision which covers several countries,including Belgium which, it was said, hopes to become a "smart city" leader by 2019.

It was told that the ability to use technological means in public administration and in the delivery of public services is "not yet consolidated" and "it seems that in Europe “ICT has lost some of its steam."

The report drafted by Vision , an independent charity, states, "At the same time, the sentiment of mistrust in public institutions throughout Europe has been dramatically increasing in recent years."

The European Commission has said that 38% of the EU-28 population is defined as ‘non-believer’, that is, those with a "systematic distrust" of the public administrative structure, which has failed in delivering efficient and transparent public services to the citizens.

It was said that the "Azerbaijani State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations" (ASAN) initiative, a hub for ten government ministries, has "served as a very successful tool to increase the transparency of public administration and the efficiency of public services delivery."

As part of the scheme, introduced in 2012, there are nine "one stop" centres in the country delivering a whole range of public services from financial advice to information about renewing  a driving licence or ID card.

The scheme, described at the conference as "innovative and unique", includes a "mobile service" which has benefited more than 135,000 citizens, many in outlying areas, up to now.

The conference was told that the one-stop-shop ASAN  scheme "simplifies, streamlines, speeds up and opens up" public services ranging from passport renewals to tax inquires and company set-ups.

The ASAN scheme has also been commended by several international organizations, including the OECD and the European Commission, which recognized its importance ‘as a visible measure against corruption and to increase transparency.’

Today (2 April), ASAN centres operate in the Baku region and its surroundings and more than four million citizens have taken advantage of around 240 types of public services provided in them.

The report said, "What’s even more impressive is the fact that the time of average service delivery at these centers was estimated at 11 minutes."

The scheme is typical of one which might possibly be replicated in other countries, including EU member states, said, Azad Jafarli, director of international relations for ASAN.

"The introduction of more efficient measures in delivering public services not only helps to increase trust in the public administration but it also reduce economic costs through modernisation of delivery methods," he said.

"There is low trust in public administration in some countries and this is something we have tried to tackle. Certainly, it has improved transparency and also been effective in tackling corruption.

"The idea has been to simplify services for the public and make them more efficient. There are improvements still to be made but I think we have succeeded in that."

To tackle the relative underdevelopment of e-Government services in Europe and also reinvigorate the EU economy by increased use of such digital technologies, the workshop heard that the European Commission has created the so-called European Digital Agenda, one of the seven initiatives contained in the Strategy Europe 2020.

Efficient use of e-Government is  among these targets and is gauged in the Digital Agenda Scoreboard on e-Government published by the Commission in 2014.

The objective of the Agenda is to ensure that half of the population (50%) will be able to use e-Government and 25% of population will be able to return forms electronically by 2015.

In 2013, the percentage of the population in Europe using e-Government had reached 41.5%, down from 44% in 2012.

Only nine out of 28 countries (Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, France, Lithuania, Austria, Slovenia and Belgium) are currently above the 2015 target of 50%.

In Romania, Italy Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary, online services are used by less than a quarter of the population.

In Italy, Poland, Germany and the UK, the Vision report says  a "very slow change or even a decrease" in the usage of e-Government has been registered during the last year.

The conclusion of the Digital Agenda Scoreboard of 2013 on the use of e-Government in European countries says that “e-Government take-up by citizens is growing more slowly than any other online applications and is indeed stagnating in a number of countries.

"Clearly, neither the potential savings in administration costs nor the potential benefits to citizens are fully exploited."

The Vision report said that the first 17 world e-Government development leaders are also among the top 20 less corrupt countries (Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and Norway occupy the highest positions in both.

"Thus, the general trend shows that there is a negative correlation between e-Government development and the level of corruption," it concludes.

The comments are broadly echoed by Kamran Agasi, director of the innovation centre at ASAN, who said that many in his country now leaned "naturally" towards the services it provides.

"We do not pretend that it is a solution for everything but it has become so successful, a hub if you like, that we are now taking on board other services, such as public utilities, mobile phone companies and even tourism services."

Fuad Isgandarov, Azerbaijani ambassador to the EU, told the conference that its successful ASAN initiative can also help "improve" the image of the country to the outside world.

He said: "This is very important. We want to give a positive impression of our country and create something new for the future."

Vision in its study also looked at e-Government usage in other countries, including the UK and Italy.

It says that the level of e-Government is "more developed, more widely used and more available" in the UK than in Italy.

In 2013, it said 21% of Italians made use of the Internet for e-Government services. This shows an increase from the 19% in 2012 but it still remains much below the EU average of 41%. 10% of citizens submitted completed forms; up from 8% in 2012 but considerably below the EU average.

On the other side, the British results are "at square", it says, with the EU average.

"In fact, in the UK, the percentage of citizens who used e-Government services and of citizens who sent filled forms in 2013 (41 and 22, respectively) is distinctly close to the EU average (41 and 21, respectively)."

Bulgaria

Eastern Europe’s most powerful supercomputer will be hosted by Bulgaria. What’s it good for?

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The IT giant Atos said that is has fully delivered to Bulgaria’s Sofia Tech Park a super computer that is expected to be Eastern Europe’s most powerful such device, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

The petascale computing system will help greatly with Bulgaria’s tech ambitions in the years to come.

The supercomputers will serve in the development of scientific, public and industrial applications in various fields, including bioinformatics, pharmacy, molecular and mechanical dynamics, quantum chemistry and biochemistry, artificial intelligence, personalized medicine, bioengineering, meteorology and the fight against climate change.

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Atos, the company delivering the supercomputer, said in a press release that the computer is expected to be fully operational in July 2021.

“This will be the most powerful supercomputer in Eastern Europe and will help to leverage Bulgaria’s high-tech ambitions. Atos’ Czech Republic project teams have already started the configuration tests and the supercomputer is expected to start working operationally in July 2021,” the company said in a press release.

But this is not just a Bulgarian accomplishment but also a European one, benefiting European scientific research, bolstering innovation, and providing the wider scientific community with state of the art research and development tools.

The supercomputer is co-financed by the Republic of Bulgaria and European Union EuroHPC JU program. The total investment amounts to 11.5 million euros.

The petascale computing system in Bulgaria will be similar to other supercomputing systems in university and research centers across Europe, such as CINECA in Italia, IZUM in Slovenia, LuxProvide in Luxemburg și Minho Advanced Computing Center from Portugal.

The computing system present in Bulgaria will thus consolidate EU’s network of research capabilities and strengthened its endeavors to develop new tech and research hubs in its member states.

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Computer technology

Inauguration of the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking Headquarters in Luxembourg

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Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, together with Luxembourg's Foreign and European Affair Minister Jean Asselborn, and Economy Minister Franz Fayot, inaugurated the headquarters of the European High Performance Computing (EuroHPC) Joint Undertaking in Luxembourg. Commissioner Breton said: “I am delighted to inaugurate the new home for European HPC. Supercomputing is key for the digital sovereignty of the EU. High Performance Computers are crucial to harness the full potential of data — notably for AI applications, health research and industry 4.0. We are massively investing in this cutting-edge technology for Europe to remain ahead of the global tech race.” The mission of the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking is to pool European and national resources to procure and deploy world-class supercomputers and technologies.

Supercomputers will help European researchers and industry to make significant advances in areas such as bio-engineering, personalised medicine, fighting against climate change, weather forecasting, as well as in the discovery of drugs and of new materials that will benefit all EU citizens. The Commission is committed to supporting research and innovation for new supercomputing technologies, systems and products, as well as fostering the necessary skills to use the infrastructure and build a world-class ecosystem in Europe. A Commission proposal for a new EuroHPC JU Regulation, presented in September 2020, aims to enable a further investment of €8 billion to help drive and expand the work of the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking in order to provide the next generation of supercomputers and to support an ambitious HPC research and innovation agenda in the EU. More information will be available in this press release by the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking.

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EU to hit Apple with antitrust charge this week - source

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A 3D-printed Apple logo is seen in front of a displayed European Union flag in this illustration taken September 2, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

EU antitrust regulators are set to charge iPhone maker Apple (AAPL.O) this week with blocking rivals on its App Store following a complaint by music streaming service Spotify (SPOT.N), a person familiar with the matter has said, writes Foo Yun Chee.

The move, the first EU antitrust charge against Apple, could lead to a fine as much as 10% of Apple's global revenue and changes in its lucrative business model.

Reuters was the first to report about the imminent EU antitrust charge in March.

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Sweden's Spotify took its grievance to the European Commission in 2019, saying Apple unfairly restricts rivals to its own music steaming service Apple Music.

It also complained about the 30% fee levied on app developers to use Apple's in-app purchase system (IAP).

The EU competition enforcer, which has four Apple investigations including the Spotify complaint, declined to comment.

Apple referred to its March 2019 blog following the Spotify complaint, which said its App Store helped its rival to benefit from hundreds of millions of app downloads to become Europe's largest music streaming service.

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