Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1060 - 1065)



  1060. How is the idea being received by Member States? Do they support it?

  A. So far supportive. I think there was one Member State who at some stage was a bit suspicious, I think it was Ireland, but I do not even know the reason. Recently I have not heard anything about their resistance. My understanding is that we are close to agreement among the Member States that it is the right way to proceed. By the way, there is a complication which has more general relevance in terms of governance, which is that the European legislative process is hopelessly slow. In the internal preparatory process for this .eu we were advised that for relevant legal reasons we should make a legislative proposal on creating the .eu top level domain. That would have meant it would have taken at least 18 months to get the Directive or decision adopted by the Council and the Parliament and then the transposition would have taken some time. That is indeed an eternity in the Internet age and we could not afford that. Now we are close to finding a way to avoid a strict legal requirement and we may just announce to the ICANN to create this .eu top level domain, perhaps with the risk that some Member State will take us to the Court of Justice, but I think the risk is not very relevant. As regards that and also the unbundling of the local loop, once we adopt a proposal for a Directive it will take in the normal legislative procedure roughly 18 to 24 months, which is really too much. I hope the IGC can do something about this and produce a faster track procedure with the Council and Parliament.

  1061. We are coming to the end now but I have a last question. We missed the business people yesterday regrettably but we have had a good deal of evidence put to us by business interests during the course of our enquiry which in the main has argued that they did not feel they were being heard in Brussels sufficiently quickly enough, indeed by people who understood what they were talking about in some areas. In a sense this comes back to the Finnish criticism of the eEurope paper that it was not sufficiently orientated towards the core issue which is getting the business moving. Do you think there is any validity in those criticisms? Have you any ideas about how relationships within the industry might be improved? One thing that struck us very much indeed when we were in the States was the close nature of the relationship between Government and industry. It is not formalised but it works and they seem to know what each other is doing and, accordingly, we are trying to act in the light of that. In Europe, and it is the same with the United Kingdom, one gets the feeling that the division is wider and the gulf is even bigger in Brussels. Have you any ideas about what might be done? Firstly, is the criticism valid? Secondly, what might be done to overcome those difficulties, particularly for new entrepreneurs?

  A. It is rather difficult to comment on a criticism which is not very precise but I would say that if I think simply of the agenda of my Commissioner, he travels three or four days a week in different capitals to conferences mainly around Europe, sometimes in the US, sometimes in Japan, and that is about the maximum he can do. Always when he is on his tours as a travelling salesman of entrepreneurship and eEurope he meets with industrial representatives from the enterprises themselves, often the chief executives, or with industrial organisations. Frankly, in that sense I think we have quite a good hunch in relation to what is going on in Europe and also in the US to some extent because my Commissioner has done several fact finding visits to the US, to Silicon Valley and New York, and tried to learn how the US are doing in order to catch up with that benchmark. There are perhaps two issues which are relevant which could be improved. One is how to make our relations, our dialogue, with the small and medium sized enterprises more systematic. We have relations with the European organisations and my Commissioner has gone to several SME conferences and he is meeting with fast growth companies in the Growth Plus Conference next week, but still I think there are some unused possibilities to improve our dialogue with SMEs. I have the benefit in that my old man is an entrepreneur and is now turning 70 and thinking about how to put his car sales and spare parts business into e-commerce. We have spent several sauna evenings reflecting on how to do that because he has to move soon. The other one is then more a message to the industry side of how they organise their lobbying or transmission of expertise to the Commission.

  1062. And other parts of the Commission too, beyond Europe, the immediate area of responsibility. You have told us what your Commissioner does.

  A. Yes. In many ways, you should not preach to the converted. Often it is a matter of having a broader understanding of entrepreneurship and business related issues inside the Commission.

  1063. Thank you very much indeed. I have kept you running longer than I should have done but we did have a lot of questions for you. I think we have covered most of them and I am very grateful indeed to you for the answers you have given us. If there are any other points in the questions which you would like to supplement to us, please feel free to drop us a note or your office drop us a note if there is something more you would like to say to us. We hope we can produce not just an interesting report but one which will add value to ensure the policy development of e-commerce is as efficient as possible in the United Kingdom and elsewhere and also the co-ordination is the best we can strive for. Please send our regards to your Commissioner. We are sorry we have not had a chance to meet with him but we can understand with the important meetings coming up that he will have been very committed. Had we been able to see him I think perhaps I would have liked to put a question to him about his recent comments on the auction of mobile phone licences. Maybe he might have given us some views on what he thinks the Chancellor of the Exchequer in London ought to be doing with the receipts which he has managed to get, whether he thinks they should be going back into e-commerce.

  A. I think we have to apply subsidiarity and count on the Treasury; otherwise there will be big headlines in the Evening Standard or the Daily Mail.

  1064. That is a very useful point on which to finish.

  A. Thank you very much for an interesting session. I am very much looking forward to your report. They always add value.

  1065. We will send your regards too to Lord Wallace.

  A. Yes, thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming.

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