Åsa Torstensson is Sweden’s Minister for Communications; she has been a Member of the Swedish Parliament since 1998. Prior to her current post, Ms Torstensson served on several Commissions of Trust: Party Group Leader, the Centre Party; Member, Committee on Industry and Trade; Member, Committee on European Union Affairs; and Member of the Committee on the Constitution. Ms Torstensson held the following positions in local government - Member of Municipal Council; Strömstad Municipality Chairman; Municipal Executive Board, Strömstad Municipality; Secretary of Municipalities, Centre Party National Organization; Party Representative, Bohuslän Centre Party District. Ms Torstensson has also served on the following boards: Centre Party’s Executive Committee; Centre Party’s Executive Board; Board Member, Randello Invest AB; Member, Swedish Emergency Management Agency; Member, Board of Export Control; Member, Tjärnö Marine Biology Laboratory; Chairman, Food Industry Economic Institute; Chairman, Bohuslän Centre Party District; Chairman, Centre Party Section of Municipalities; Member, Board of Higher Education Trolhättan-Uddevalla; Chairman, Centre Party’s Municipal Division, Strömstad; Board Member, Skee Area Centre Party Division. Åsa Torstensson graduated from the School of Social Studies at Östersund College.
The EU’s Swedish Presidency faces several major challenges including battling the financial crisis and climate change. ICT will be a key factor in handling both of them. Studies show that ICT was behind half of the EU’s GDP growth between 1995 and 2004. ICT creates logistical solutions that makes transport more efficient, reduces its environmental impact and makes vehicles more fuel-efficient. The EU needs a coherent ICT strategy to breathe new life into the European economy and facilitate a shift to an eco-efficient economy.
The Swedish Presidency of the EU faces two major challenges, how to battle the financial crisis and the climate change. As of now, the EU has formulated the most ambitious targets that any group of countries has presented. The EU has become the engine in the climate change negotiations. Today we meet the expectations, hopes and demands of so many in Europe and in the world. This autumn, the UN conference on climate in Copenhagen taking place during the financial crisis will be an ultimate test of the strength of the world’s commitment to environmental issues. Let us not misinterpret the prospects - we will experience a unique window of opportunity. I believe that ICT will be a key factor in handling both of these challenges. ICT makes it possible for people to work in ways that are more flexible, and it creates effective logistical solutions which makes all kinds of transport more effective with less impact on the environment. ICT will make our vehicles much more fuel-efficient and it is probably just a matter of time before new technologies arrive that make the transport fleet carbon dioxide neutral. I believe that this is a necessary development in the end for keeping and improving Europe’s competitiveness and for new companies and jobs to emerge. Nevertheless, there is also another factor at stake here. A report published by the EU in 2006 showed that ICT was behind 80 per cent of the increase in GDP between the years 1995-2004 in countries like Sweden and the USA. For the EU 15 the corresponding figure was 50 per cent. ICT is thus a significant factor behind growth and prosperity. This will probably be evident in the future when we look back at how the current financial crisis was handled. We also know that when a country becomes richer, in addition to the important and obvious aspects like achieving low infant mortality rates and the fact that children can go to good schools and eat proper food, it will also be more careful about the environment. As Minister of Communications, I would also like to stress the importance ICT has for achieving good traffic safety and creating environment-friendly vehicles. Sweden strongly believes that ICT and electronic communications is a key policy area when it comes to creating economic growth, strengthening competitiveness and helping to solve the problems of climate change. ICT policy can breathe new life into the European economy and facilitate a shift to an eco-efficient economy. To this end, there is a need for a coherent ICT strategy in the EU. The overall Swedish ICT priority during this Presidency is to map out and discuss the strategic ICT issues and challenges for the coming five years as the current EU-program is about to expire. An increasing number of European citizens take advantage of all the possibilities that ICT provides and I believe that they are on the right track. But as you know, with most things in our society there is always room for improvement and there are always many things left to be done. More people need to be connected to the Internet and more public services need to become accessible using electronic services. To facilitate the work for the next ICT policy program Sweden will arrange a conference on the subject in Visby, on the island Gotland in the Baltic Sea, in November this year. Another important issue on the Swedish Presidential agenda is to co-ordinate the use of the frequencies that are freed up as a consequence of the switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasts. Sweden believes that this digital dividend provides decision makers and citizens with a rare opportunity to get better communications services. The release of frequencies creates opportunities for new and innovative services for both TV viewers and users of electronic communications, and gives Europe the chance to stay in the global lead on technological development, economic growth and citizens’ welfare. It is also a rare opportunity to connect the rural Europe and thus bridge the geographical gap that otherwise could hinder economic and social development in these regions. It is the Swedish view that, in order to grasp this opportunity, Europe must act in a concerted fashion. If the digital dividend becomes fragmented across the Member States, the opportunity will be missed. A harmonised approach to the digital dividend would enable increased innovation, better and more affordable equipment and services and enable users to benefit from these services while abroad. It will also act as a stimulus for new business ideas. A third task is to make it possible to adopt a new package of telecom regulations. The new set of regulations is needed to enhance competition and consumer protection. Improved competition and more investments means a boost to economic growth, which is essential in these times of deep economic recession. The proposed new legislation sparked off intense discussions among Internet users all over the EU. For me the Internet has become what might be the most important tool for freedom of speech, democracy, innovation and communications; these are the main reasons why I once chose to work politically and under no circumstances would I propose measures to jeopardize the democratic innovation that the Internet makes possible. I will take further steps in order to promote a dialogue with Internet users to make sure that we understand each other. Sweden at the helm in EU will commit itself to the contribution of a renewed ICT agenda for Europe.