CEBIT: Merkel, Sarkozy, Barroso talk economics in show opener

Talk of economics, peppered with some words on IT, dominated the speeches given by European politicians during the opening ceremony of the Cebit trade show

It wasn't about the IT, it was about the economy for Jose Manuel Barroso, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, speaking at the opening ceremony of the Cebit trade show in Germany.

Nevertheless, they had a few words to say about the role of IT in policy-making and in politics.

President of the European Commission Barroso outlined a number of measures the European Union will take this year to favor small and medium-size businesses, which are a mainstay of the German economy and increasingly being courted by major software vendors such as SAP. One measure is to help SMBs form clusters, something that might be facilitated by better communications software.

Reinforcing the free movement of knowledge within the EU's single market will also be a priority, Barroso said. That will include measures to encourage the mobility of researchers between universities, building on previous academic reforms -- but also legislation to enforce the respect of intellectual-property rights, he said. He did not explain how this latter measure would help knowledge circulate freely, however.

German Chancellor Merkel, too, spoke of intellectual-property rights, in the context of the EU's transatlantic partnership with the US This must ensure fair conditions for businesses on both sides, where "Fair conditions means standards are comparable, and there is fair protection of intellectual-property law," she said.

As people increasingly turn to computers for information -- a theme explored by an earlier speaker, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer -- Merkel wondered "How can I influence electors that have not yet made up their mind if they rely on the computer only?"

Yet computers, and the information to which they give access, also help democracy, she said: "Dictatorships have structural disadvantages with so much freedom of communications."

Merkel spoke of the success of some of Germany's plans to give citizens access to government information, adding with a nod to French President Sarkozy that such programs will be easier to implement in France because of its more centralized government.

Sarkozy, for his part, was more concerned with giving citizens the means to access information than with the state providing it.

"I want 70 per cent of French households to have a computer, and 100 per cent to have access to high speed Internet, whether mobile or fixed, by 2012," he said.

France's telecommunications operators, at least, may see the economic benefits of Sarkozy's IT policy.

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