146. "The French market is showing the fastest
growth rates with 47 per cent market growth in 1999 compared with
33 per cent in Britain and 22 per cent in Germany."
147. Twenty years before the rest of Europe, France
entered the Information Age with the creation of the Minitel system.
This system accustomed French consumers to Information and Communication
Technology (ICT), but because it was a closed system, it delayed
the French take-up of the global Internet. Since January 1998
when France published a government action plan entitled Preparing
France's Entry into the Information Society
(PAGSI), the French government and industry have moved with commendable
148. At the same time, the government established
the administrative apparatus to drive forward and monitor the
implementation of this programme. A top level inter-Ministerial
committee was established, chaired by the Prime Minister. Senior
officials with lead responsibility for Information Society issues
were designated in each Ministry and within each Minister's private
office (Cabinet). An official within the French Foreign
Affairs Ministry was given special responsibility for co-ordinating
the government's position on the Information Society within international
fora. By August 1999, France had made striking progress. Fifteen
million French people had acquired mobile phones, computers were
selling faster than TV sets, and the number of Internet users
had increased by 45 per cent over the previous six months. In
October 1999, the government published a consultation document
in preparation for a major piece of primary legislation to be
introduced into parliament at the start of this yearan
Information Society Bill.
149. The French Presidency, which began on 1 July
2000, set itself three specific "Internet" priorities
for the Telecommunication Councils in October and December:
(a) to adopt a community programme to promote
European content and linguistic diversity on the Web;
(b) to agree a Council resolution on Internet
(c) to agree Council conclusions on the creation
of a ".eu" suffix.
They will also need to continue work on the draft
150. The French are strongly convinced that progress
in e-commerce and in the application of the eEurope Action Plan
depends to a considerable extent on government intervention. As
the Deputy Under-Secretary for Industry, Economic and International
Affairs, M. Battistelli, said in evidence:
"We have a tradition
in France of public authorities trying to show the way when we
consider that the market by itself is not in a position to do
He added later in his evidence, "but we
are more and more business-orientated". Other French witnesses
pointed out that the state had a duty to support the consumer.
151. The French government has a system similar to
that of the United Kingdom, in that a Minister, the Minister in
charge of Industry, Telecommunications and Public Services, has
been appointed as the Minister with prime responsibility for the
new technologies. The French had an E-Envoy equivalentM.
Francis Lorentz, a former CEO of the French IT company, Bull.
He resigned just before the Sub-Committee visited Paris, but it
was generally expected that a successor would be appointed soon.
One element of the French system which caught our attention was
the appointment of IT experts in the various regional authorities.