Technology-hungry Swedes are marking their entry into Europe with an IT competition
To mark Sweden's entry into the European Union, the city of Stockholm has issued a friendly challenge to all European cities with a population of more than 400,000 to take part in a competition to find the most useful IT projects in Europe.

"The Bangemann Challenge is aimed at highlighting concrete, existing IT projects in Europe," explains Jorgen Kleist, project manager for the challenge. "All the projects competing must be down-to-earth, user-oriented and in actual operation. The evaluation will be based on benefits to the community achieved by the end of 1996."

The inspiration for the competition is the report on Europe and the Global Information Society produced by Martin Bangemann, European Commissioner for Telecommunications and IT. The 10 categories for entries include teleworking, distance learning, road traffic management, health care and broad-band city information highways.

The challenge has been accepted by 24 cities from 11 countries that have put forward about 100 projects. Among projects submitted from the UK, Bradford has entered distance-learning projects for small firms, Lewisham has entered a link-line for pensioners and disabled people, and Manchester its electronic village hall network.

One of the Swedish entries is a distance-learning project for 200 Swedish upper-school children living abroad in more than 30 countries. Their parents want them to receive a Swedish education, but there are too few children in any given area to justify a dedicated Swedish school. Will this idea be copied by other minority groups? Or will the whole idea of national education systems disappear in the face of wider choice?

The Telemedicine Group at the University of Edinburgh has entered two projects: Hermes, which is taking the first steps towards setting up a worldwide telemedicine network, and Mams, with ultrasound scanning over an interactive videolink and remote access to hospital patient record databases.

Dr Ken Boddy, of the Telemedicine Group, says: "With hospitals becoming more and more business-like in their approach to health care, it may even become possible in the future for some hospitals to set themselves up as `telemedical centres' which can provide online advice to other hospitals."

The projects will be judged by an international jury, with Mr Bangemann as honorary chairman, and Jorg Wenzel, head of the EU's Information Society Activity Centre, as working chairman.

"The jury will start its work in connection with a major conference in Barcelona from 7 to 9 October, where all the projects will be presented," says Mr Kleist. "We are very pleased to announce that His Majesty the King of Sweden will present the prizes at an awards ceremony in Stockholm on 22 January. This will take place in the city's Blue Hall, where Nobel prizes are awarded."

Is the rest of Europe up to the standard set by the technology-hungry Swedes? The real challenge will be for the jury to decide which are the best of 100 top-notch projects. At least there should be no recipients of "nul points" in this competition.