Information and Communication Technology (ICT) advancements not only bring new opportunities, but also bring to light new risks for the achievement of sustainable development (SD) goals [1
]. ICT proved to accelerate the worldwide socio-technological progress through knowledge transfer, marketing goods or services, network externalities and the development of cooperative relationships [2
]. The contribution of ICT in addressing the major challenges of sustainable energy, climate change and sustainable development is highlighted by researchers, entrepreneurs, decision-makers and policy-makers [3
]. The integration of ICT into social development and economic growth provides better opportunities for enhancing competitiveness and satisfying human needs [4
The initiatives required to help ICT enable transformation to sustainable development and global competitiveness are as follows [6
Improve the four inter-related dimensions of ICT (the 4C Framework): Computers, Connectivity, Content, (human) Capacity.
The successful application ICT for sustainable development depends on the scalability and the sustainability.
ICT constitutes just a means of achieving sustainable development.
Active efforts are required to foster global inclusion.
Sustainable ICT should be economically feasible and create end-user value.
ICT for sustainable development research and practice should be participatory, collaborative and empowering for the solutions to be globally consistent and relevant.
Sustainable ICT should become a globally recognized and funded industry.
Inspire and effectively engage all relevant stakeholders to have a shared vision to implement sustainable ICT.
Develop metrics to quantify the level of success and effectiveness and consider new academic rigor.
Focus on the challenges of modernization.
Plan innovative models for research and development.
ICT is supposed to trigger the co-evolutionary process that will meet sustainable development goals in the EU through the efficient use of natural resources [7
]. National and regional agencies involved in activities related to the agenda about digital inclusion and web accessibility in rural and underserved areas should adopt a new technology, engage community participation and incorporate sustainable development as essential factors to link ICT with community development and prosperity [8
]. ICT solutions constitute vehicles for sustainable development in a more effective and cost-efficient way, as they have great potential to assist poor people to improve the quality of their life [9
Information and knowledge are essential to achieve regional development and economic growth, since they are performed as primal components of socio-economic activities for strategic management in developing countries [10
]. According to OECD Report Greener and Smarter in 2010, ICT is a crucial component for green growth and green economy [11
] as it promotes smart growth, “development that is economically sound, environmentally friendly and supportive of community livability–growth that enhances our quality of life” [12
]. Realtime data streaming will support the process of effectively monitoring the impact of regulations regarding the environment and society [14
]. The multimedia distributed systems such as ICT, communication networks and smart media are widely used for electronic data interchange (EDI) [15
]. The international community has integrated many goals in public policy to ensure environmental sustainability since it constitutes part of global socio-economic well-being [16
]. The sustainable management of natural resources plays a vital role in the achievement of global sustainability goals [18
]. The aim of sustainable development is to “promote the human well-being, meet the basic needs of the poor and protect the welfare of future generations (intra- and inter- generational justice), preserve environmental resources and global life-support systems (respecting limits), integrate economics and natural environment in decision-making, and encourage public involvement in development processes” [19
]. However, the current framework for sustainable development is completely different from the framework developed over past years, as new factors (e.g., multinational corporate companies and civil society organizations) and modern ICT (computerized communication channels, such as Internet) influence the environmental and socio-economic aspects of the development [21
According to the EU Green Paper on Innovation in 1995, the key factors to boosting innovation potential are the following: environmental policy, regional industrial policy, technology policy, education and training policy, research policy (RP), competition policy, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) policy and taxation policy [22
]. In today’s digital era, the EU encourages the international cooperation in research and innovation as a key success factor in sustainability [23
]. Sustainable regional and local development constitutes an integrated approach to the planning and development of our regions [25
] but cooperation among different authorities is essential [26
]. Regional Policy aims to create employment opportunities, support business agility and business competitiveness, while promoting sustainable economic growth to all European regions [28
]. EU regional policy funding focuses on four categories [29
Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
Research and Innovation (R&I).
Enhancing the competitiveness of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).
Transitioning to a low-carbon economy.
The main aim of the current policies and strategies for regional development is the flow of money from the rich nations to the poor nations, as well as the support to confront regional challenges through funding programs [30
]. Aiming to create empowering partnerships among EU regions and EU member states in the context of these policies’ implementation, the EU adopts some practices, such as monitoring and policy evaluation, in order to enhance the effectiveness of the policies [30
]. The European Commission’s involvement in regional development can be traced back to 1957 when the Treaty of Rome required the community to ensure “harmonious” development by reducing regional differences and the backwardness of less-favored regions [31
According to the latest Eurobarometer regarding “Citizens’ awareness and perceptions of EU regional policy” in 2017, almost 80% of the EU citizens were convinced that EU regional policy investments had a positive effect on their region or city, while almost half of the EU citizens supported the idea that EU regional investments should continue [32
]. In order to be effective, a policy, such as regional policy, necessarily involves multiple partners operating at different spatial scales and different governance levels [33
]. There are four structural funds: the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which is intended to finance large infrastructure projects and has the largest weight in the budget; the European Social Fund (ESF), which is the main financial instrument assisting the EU in realizing the strategy and the main objectives of its implementing policy; the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF—Guidance Section), which accelerates the reformation of the agricultural structure; the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG), which is the specific fund for the reform of the structure of the fisheries sector [34
]. The structural actions represent approximately one-third of whole the budget of the EU [34
]. Infrastructure expenditures by are addressed to low-growth, low-employment and low-productivity regions [35
It is widely accepted that EU regional policy has been an important contributing factor to the promotion of EU political regionalism and decentralization [36
]. This is primarily as a result of the Funds of Partnership principle, taking into consideration that there are competent regional authorities and they get actively involved in the developing and implementation of regional aid [36
]. Whereas a succession of income transfers may lead to a series of possible reductions in regional disparities, it should not be confused with the process of convergence on the regional level, which would be the successful implication of regional policies [37
]. An emphasis on endogenous growth models has developed, and in connection with this, the intention to enhance the competitiveness among EU regions in contrast with simply getting involved in redistributive activities characterized by former regional policy interventions [38
The European Regional Policy Research Consortium (EoRPA), originally launched in 1978, and was funded by government departments in Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It involves the monitoring and analysis of national regional policies in 30 European countries, and the study of the inter-relationships between EU Cohesion policy and EU Competition policy control of state aid [39
The objective of this study is to investigate the impact of ICT on EU regional policy in the terms of sustainable development by applying the multicriteria approach, PROMETHEE II, using the software, Visual PROMETHEE. This approach was used for the assessment of the impact of ICT and for the ranking of the EU regional policies.
2. Materials and Methods
EU regional policies are retrieved from the official European Union website (www.europa.eu
). The first step was to record the regulations, the directives, the decisions, the communications and other acts regarding the regional issues. EU sustainable regional policies form the alternatives. After the collection of the policies, a two-dimensional table was developed in order to find out the existence or lack of criteria that both the European Commission and member states have defined and proposed in order to assess the ICT implications of new EU legislation since 2010 [40
]. These criteria constitute the variables X1, X2, ..., X12 (Table 1
). Variable X1 refers to the requirement of the design of information rich processes by the legislation, while variable X2 refers to the requirement of the design of new business processes. Variable X3 represents the requirement of large amounts of data gathering in these processes and variable X4 represents the requirement of collaboration between ICT systems of multiple DGs or institutions/organizations. Variable X5 is about the fact that the legislation concerns ICT systems or that ICT is a supporting function of the legislation. The first five criteria/variables describe the level of dependence on ICT solutions of the EU regional policies and the weight of each is 1. The rest of the criteria/variables describe the levels of complexity of the ICT solutions and the weight of each is 0.83. The weights of the criteria were defined according to the method used by the European Commission to assess the ICT implications of EU legislation [40
], giving the same importance to the level of dependence on the ICT implications and the level of complexity of the ICT implications. Variable X6 refers to whether the legislation requires new ICT solutions or existing applications can fulfill the requirements, while variable X7 refers to the existence of legacy systems which might hamper the implementation. Variable X8 concerns the imposition of authentication requirements by the legislation and variable X9 concerns the requirement of large amounts of data exchange between member states and/or the Commission. Variable X10 is about the required lead-time of the implementation (urgency), variable X11 is about the requirement of new interoperability specifications and variable X12 is about the imposition of high security requirements on the ICT solution by the initiative. The total amount of criteria achieved by each EU regional policy was also studied.
Furthermore, the impact of ICT was assessed, and the EU regional policies were ranked using the multicriteria analysis, PROMETHEE II. PROMETHEE constitutes a prescriptive methodology which enables the decision-maker to rank the actions regarding his preferences [42
]. Two rankings are calculated: the partial ranking is calculated mainly by undisputable preferences (PROMETHEE I), while the complete ranking, which is probably weaker, is obtained according to the decision-maker’s requirements, too (PROMETHEE II) [42
]. The PROMETHEE IV method solves a choice problematic for an infinite set of actions. It uses the same outranking relation, but the flows are defined on a compact subset of R” [43
The PROMETHEE method includes four processes [44
Define the preferences: this function deals with the decision-maker’s preference for an alternative xk with respect to another alternative xl regarding a criterion.
Calculate the preference index: this index is used to compare the alternatives in pairs, quantitatively taking into consideration all the defined criteria.
Construct valued outranking graph: outgoing and incoming flows are determined by means of relevant preference indices.
Rank alternatives according to the valued outranking graph: determination of the weights is an important step in most multi-criteria methods [45
The method normalizes the weights of the criteria in order for their sum to be equal to 1.0 (100%) [44
]. The PROMETHEE II method is described thoroughly in Brans and Mareschal (2005) [46
] and in Andreopoulou et al. (2017) [47
PROMETHEE provides the researcher with rankings of the alternatives and GAIA with a graphical representation of the decision problem [48
]. The GAIA analysis is based on the uni-criterion net flows [42
]. GAIA uses the principal components analysis (PCA), a well-known dimension-reduction technique for statistical data analysis [49
PROMETHEE II methodology was selected in order to evaluate the impact of ICT on EU sustainable regional policies and to rank the policies because [50
there is now so much sensitivity of the estimated relation in small changes.
the results can be easily interpreted and discussed.
the use of the superiority relation is applied when the alternatives (sustainable regional policies) have to be ranked from the alternative with the highest score to the alternative with the lowest score.
the assessment and ranking process of complicated cases of sustainable regional policies is suitable for the application of PROMETHEE II methodology in the way that it seems to be closer to reality.
The research through the official European Union website (www.europa.eu
) resulted in the retrieval of 50 regional policies, which are presented in the Appendix A
. In total, 19 out of the 50 EU regional policies have been established since 2010 (when the European Commission began to assess the ICT implications of EU legislation). Figure 1
presents the partial rankings of the 19 EU regional policies based on the computation of the two preference flows (Phi+ and Phi-).
presents the complete rankings of the 19 EU regional policies, which are based on the total net preference flow (Phi). According to the results of PROMETHEE I and PROMETHEE II, COM(2012)19 “Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)” is preferred to all other regional policies. COM(2012)19 has the highest score on Phi (0.5841), followed by Reg.2015/207 “The models for the progress report, submission of the information on a major project, the joint action plan, the implementation reports for the Investment for growth and jobs goal, the management declaration, the audit strategy, the audit opinion and the annual control report and the methodology for carrying out the cost-benefit analysis” and COM(2014)473 “Sixth report on economic, social and territorial cohesion: investment for jobs and growth”, while COM(2015)118 “The Agreement on the European Economic Area” has the lowest score. The ranking of PROMETHEE I is confirmed by the ranking of PROMETHEE II.
shows the PROMETHEE diamond, which depicts in a better way the two rankings (Phi+ and Phi-), while the vertical dimension represents the total net flow (Phi) by the complete ranking process. It can be observed that all action cones are located on the left axis (Phi+), which means that the total net flow of the regional policies is less than 1.
shows the Phi scores of all the EU regional policies. The values calculated for the total net flows (Phi) present a large spectrum of values between +0.5841 and −0.4123, and that shows a great difference concerning “superiority” between the first and the last case in the ranking of EU regional policies according to the impact of ICT.
In Figure 4
, the GAIA plane is displayed. The red axis is the decision axis, which indicates the direction for the best solution according to the weight vectors on the GAIA plane. Because the direction of the decision axis is in the same direction as the variables X2 “The requirement of the design of new business processes” and X4 “The requirement of collaboration between ICT systems of multiple DGs or institutions/organizations”, it can be expected that the PROMETHEE II ranked actions to be stronger on this variable and potentially weaker on variables X8 “The imposition of authentication requirements by the legislation” and X11 “The requirement of new interoperability specifications”. COM(2010)553 “Regional Policy contributing to smart growth in Europe 2020” and Reg.1300/2013 “Cohesion Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1084/2006” are very close to each other and they have similar actions, whereas the other policies are in the opposite direction. It can be concluded that they are different from other actions.