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Cebit kicks off with talk of openness

Peter Sayer | Feb. 28, 2011
Open democracy, open borders and open standards were the themes to which speakers returned again and again at the opening ceremony for the Cebit trade show in Hannover, Germany, on Monday night.

FRAMINGHAM 28 FEBRUARY 2011 - Open democracy, open borders and open standards were the themes to which speakers returned again and again at the opening ceremony for the Cebit trade show in Hannover, Germany, on Monday night.

Stephan Weil, mayor of Hanover, kicked off the first theme with an allusion to the role Facebook has played in coordinating anti-government protests in countries across North Africa and the Middle East in recent weeks.

And without technologies such as Twitter, without the ability to communicate openly and come together at short notice, without the constant articulation of peaceful intent, the protests in Egypt would not have progressed so peacefully, said August-Wilhelm Scheer, president of Bitkom, the German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media.

The noisy crowd of protesters gathered outside the Hannover Congress Centrum could hardly be described as peaceful, although they were certainly non-violent. They were openly protesting Turkey's treatment of its Kurdish minority, and carried banners calling for the creation of an independent Kurdistan.

The target of their protest was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was speaking at the opening ceremony, as Turkey is Cebit's partner country this year.

Erdogan talked of Turkey's efforts to open up new economic opportunities by boosting its technology industry.

IT products represent 5% of Turkey's exports today, a figure he wants to increase to 20%. To do that, Turkey is encouraging spending on research, which has already risen to 0.85% of GDP from a historical 0.4%. This, however, is far below the European Union's research spending, at 1.83% of GDP.

"We will definitely increase our spending, and keep increasing it. Two percent of GDP is what we're aiming at," said Erdogan.

Boosting research funding is not enough: there must also be researchers. Turkey has been investing heavily in education at all levels over the last eight years, Erdogan said, and now has 160,000 more students. There are 1 million computers in schools, and all schools with 10 classes or more now have established IT classes, he said.

The country as a whole is becoming more connected, too: it now has 7.5 million broadband connections, from practically zero in 2002, he said. Turkey had a population of almost 75 million in 2009, according to World Bank figures.

After all this talk of growth, Erdogan turned to something he would like to see shrink: the visa burden on Turkish entrepreneurs travelling to Germany on business.

"Germany is a great country for fairs and exhibitions, but it's not easy to attend them. ... Turkish entrepreneurs keep showing me their passports. Many of us have passports as big and fat as a heavy tome of literature, and that's because every time we travel, we have to reapply for a visa," Erdogan said.

 

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