Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1160 - 1179)



  1160. You bring together all of the different Councils for the industry, do you not, so there is no misunderstanding?
  (Mr Oldeman) If we say "Councils", we mean, of course, the Council in different compositions. Up to now for telecommunications it is the Telecommunications Council, although for certain parts it is also the Internal Markets Council. Sometimes it is very clear for which Council it is, sometimes the Presidency decides in which Council at the end the discussions will take place.

  1161. I do not know whether this is appropriate to you or not but we have had some evidence put to us that the Internal Markets Council and the Industry Council ought to be subsumed into a Competitiveness Council to assist with the development of e-commerce.
  (Mr Oldeman) With real European logic now they have brought the Industry and the Energy Councils together. The Internal Market Council is still as it was and the Telecommunications Council has merged with the Transport Council. What the practice will be, I do not know.

  1162. What is your view on the Industry and Internal Market Councils becoming closer? Should they be subsumed?
  (Mr Oldeman) The fact that the Industry Council should have been merged with the Internal Market Council?

  1163. Yes.
  (Mr Oldeman) It could have been done. There is also a practical point because most of the ministers of industry are also in the Internal Market Council. In the Internal Market Council half of the ministers—do not attack me if it is one more or one less—are ministers or secretaries of state for European affairs and the others are ministers of economics or industry.

  1164. As part of the Secretariat do you have any involvement in the make up of the Councils, in recommending who should be on them?
  (Mr Oldeman) No, that is the Presidency. In fact, in most of the cases it is already clear where the subject is going. If there is a proposal for a Directive in the energy field, in the former days it went to the Energy Council but now in the future it will be the Council for Industry and Energy, it is not excluded.

  1165. When exchanges take place how do they emerge? Which eye gets the gleam in it first of all?
  (Mr Oldeman) There was at a certain moment a rationalisation and the number of Councils would diminish. A decision was taken some time ago, not too long ago, and some Councils were merged, like Industry and Energy and Telecommunications and Transport.

  1166. Do you think the set up is properly structured to deal with this increasingly all-embracing topic of e-commerce? It starts in a limited area and you see before long it is moving into this one and then health is now being looked at, it is starting to affect health, it is starting to affect transport.
  (Mr Oldeman) It is a phenomenon that we did not meet before but we now realise is coming up. Co-ordination in the Council in former days was mainly a problem in the capitals of each country but now with the three pillars we suddenly realised that some Councils were dealing with the same subjects. In the Telecoms Council we adopted a Directive on electronic signatures and all of a sudden we discovered that in the framework of the Third Pillar they are now starting to develop activities also. In what sense it is going I do not know because from what I have seen they are still in the framework of fact finding. This is going to be a problem in the Council. We need more co-ordination to see that there are not three Councils dealing with one item and coming to contradictory decisions.

  1167. Have you any ideas that you might perhaps like to share with us on how these problems can be anticipated and best addressed?
  (Mr Oldeman) As this is not directly my competence I have not reflected much on it. As a first reaction I would say that Presidencies are changing so it is only for six months that it is their problem. There should be some continuous unit dealing with this problem and I guess it should be within the Secretariat.

  1168. I suppose we have got some big changes coming out of the French Presidency at the end of the year on the number of Commissioners and so on and there could even be changes on the timetabling of appointments of Presidents and so on, could there not?
  (Mr Oldeman) You mean that we change the six month rule?

  1169. Yes. I am not saying this is coming but there is the unfinished business left over from Amsterdam with knock-on effects that could range into a number of areas, is there not?
  (Mr Oldeman) Yes. You have arguments in favour and against the six months, even that two or more countries could share Presidencies. At first sight for me personally it would not be a good thing.

Viscount Brookeborough

  1170. You said, I think, that the job of your Secretariat is, if you like, to facilitate the Presidency. Do you not find it incredibly disruptive—I am not arguing for a longer period, this has just come up—always preparing for the next Presidency or even preparing for the one thereafter? This must give you a tremendous administrative problem.
  (Mr Oldeman) Maybe. That has dominated our work.

  1171. You are there to cope with the problem.
  (Mr Oldeman) For the first six months only. Every Presidency is trying to make a sprint working under high pressure trying to achieve something and that is a very good thing.

  1172. They only have one intensive period every number of years whereas you get each one of them coming in fresh and you have to cope with them.
  (Mr Oldeman) Yes.

  1173. To what extent do you facilitate or help with the Commissioners themselves? With the future of this IGC and whatever, if it was ultimately decided that over the next number of years there would be more Commissioners, do you see this as being a problem or do you see that it is something that might even help the administrative side?
  (Mr Oldeman) I do not think it would be a problem for us because each proposal by the Commission lives its own life. At the moment the Commission has taken a decision about a proposal and it is presented to the Council. We know in general which Council, which working party, COREPER is always the same of course, and on the other hand we know who is the Commissioner responsible and the Commissioner decides who is going to represent the Commission and fairly often it is not just one but two.

Viscount Brookeborough

  1174. Your power as the same permanent Secretariat through each Presidency must be really quite significant. Do you feel that each Presidency has completely different ideas or have they co-ordinated them with the previous Presidency? Are you part of that co-ordination?
  (Mr Oldeman) You are completely right. It has been the experience in the last few years that this co-ordination is growing more and more between former and future Presidencies. I have to be careful what I say about this but, because a Presidency has many heads, in each field the future President has to prepare himself or herself. The experience last week in Sweden in the preparation of the Swedish Presidency in the industrial field is they already have their contacts with the sitting Presidency and even Presidencies before and the future Presidency, etc.

  1175. Since you deal with the different countries regularly, or once every six months, do you find a great diversification in their capabilities IT wise, e-commerce wise, and their functions electronically as governments? We are involved in e-commerce, so to an extent e-government is an issue.
  (Mr Oldeman) I do not think that we can really have a judgment about it. We see delegations coming in in the working parties, in the Council, they have opinions about proposals but that does not immediately show their general approach to the problem because on some specific items it is very difficult to discover what the position of a delegation is.

  1176. As a Secretariat are you very far forward in e-government within your Secretariat? Do you find that Member States who come forward for the Presidency are equally capable in each case of managing e-government within the system of the Presidency, or is that not an issue?
  (Mr Oldeman) I think that is not an issue. In the beginning I did not understand you very well, I am sorry.

  1177. I explained it rather badly.
  (Mr Platten) There are some delegations that are more advanced in terms of more routinely they use e-mail and in terms of functioning and their contacts with us. There are still a few backwaters but it is not necessarily always the same country, it might be one particular ministry in one particular country. I do not think there are any trends.


  1178. The e-policy has been very much run by the Portuguese Presidency, has it not, left over from Helsinki, picked up from Helsinki and then run by the Portuguese Presidency? We now have the French Presidency in preparation and soon to take over and it is going to continue, is it not, to be a major issue with them?
  (Mr Oldeman) eEurope, yes.

  1179. eEurope, yes.
  (Mr Oldeman) Absolutely, it is their intention to continue.

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