Speaking on Thursday (9 July), the Luxembourg commissioner also called for European companies to put an end to US dominance of clouds, which are now run by firms such as Google, IBM or Microsoft.
"Web-based services called 'cloud computing' are the medicine needed for our credit-squeezed economy," Reding said at a conference organised by the Lisbon Council, a Brussels-based think tank. "They can make businesses more productive by shifting from fixed costs (i.e. hiring staff or buying PCs) to variable costs (i.e. you only pay for what you use)," she added.
In a landmark speech about her long-term priorities, Reding pushed for the further digitalisation of the 23 million small and medium-sized European enterprises. The Luxembourg commissioner is openly bidding to be re-appointed to the information society portfolio, after having received the official backing of her country's prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker (EurActiv 23/06/09).
If reconfirmed, she made clear that expanding cloud computing to SMEs will be among her top targets, together with online copyright, mobile payments and green ICT. Before the end of her current mandate, possibly this autumn, Reding said she was also hoping to close the ongoing review of EU telecoms rules and will press for a rapid takeoff of fibre-based high-speed Internet as well as next-generation radio spectrum-based services.
EU SMEs behind on ICT
According to the commissioner, European SMEs are still lagging behind in the use of "productivity-boosting ICT tools". Electronic invoices, for instance, are used only by 9% of SMEs, according to Commission data.
Reding estimated that migrating activities from offices to the online world could "create a million new jobs" in Europe and add 0.2% to annual GDP growth over the next five years.
EU challenge to US-led clouds
However, in her view, this massive transition should be supported by EU services to provide an alternative to the control over clouds currently exercised by US companies. "Once again, the US has started to exploit a business model before Europe has managed to do so," she lamented.
US companies including Amazon, IBM, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and Google all provide cloud computing services. Google in particular is leading this innovation by providing its email users with a set of remote software and massive electronic storage space, which are expected to slow down demand for new computers and hard disks.
"We need a major effort to set up Europe-hosted 'clouds' to give European SMEs access to fast, open and productivity enhancing services," Reding said.
Her strategy, despite fitting in nicely with the EU's energy-saving drive (see EurActiv Links Dossier), might have unwanted negative side-effects on the security and privacy of cloud users if technology is not updated to address growing risks in the digital world.