352. At the level of the EU, it was clear when we
first began to take evidence that the eEurope Action Plan as originally
drafted did not strike industry as being relevant to their concerns.
The Finnish Committee for the Future, in its report to the Finnish
Parliamentary Grand Committee was severe, and argued that the
Action Plan did not focus sufficiently on industry.
353. Most of the Finnish Parliamentarians' criticisms
were effectively answered in the Progress Report which was submitted
to the Special European Council at Lisbon on 23 and 24 March 2000,
which changed the nature and scope of the eEurope Action Plan
to the extent that, and with the exception of the failure to emphasise
the importance of industry, it can now be argued that the EU has
taken the political initiative towards matching the United States
and other global competitors in embracing new technologies. Above
all, the speedy adoption of the Action Plan, its endorsement by
the European Council, the setting of measurable targets, and the
decision to benchmark progress, demonstrate political will and
a sense of urgency at the highest levels. On the issue of the
development of policy, therefore, the EU scores highly.
354. In the Commission, some aspects of co-ordination
have gone reasonably well in the early stages. Under the Chairmanship
of President Prodi's Cabinet, five Commissioners meet regularly,
as do their Chefs de Cabinet.
355. Commissioner Liikanen has a divided responsibility
but he is recognised as the driving figure in the Commission behind
the promotion of e-commerce. He acted as sub-contractor to the
President in co-ordinating the work associated with the eEurope
Action Plan. According to his Chef de Cabinet, the Working
Group of five Commissioners, and the supporting meetings of Chefs
de Cabinet, has "compensate[d] to a significant extent
for the lack of a single responsibility [for e-commerce]".
356. The major Commissioners, whose responsibilities
embrace aspects of e-commerce, are working effectively together.
They are working towards more global solutions in the framework
of the Global Business Dialogue. An example of this is the e-Confidence
Forum which Commissioners Liikanen and Byrne have created, which
includes public authorities, the Commission, industry, and consumer
organisations. The aim of this forum is to advance the self-regulatory
process by creating a standard certificate for trustmarks and
by the self-regulation of dispute settlement.
357. The current Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC)
is dealing with a number of structural issues. One of these is
the size and composition of the Commission. The current expectation
is that all Member States, old and new, will want to retain or
to acquire the right to nominate a national Commissioner to the
European Commission. On the face of it, this might make the College
of Commissioners unwieldy. It has been suggested that there might
be more Vice-Presidents and, if the IGC determines this to be
the way forward, then the role of the Vice-Presidents could be
that of ensuring co-ordination across all the "vertical"
Directorates-General. Subjects such as e-commerce, or indeed all
aspects of the Information Society addressed in the eEurope Action
Plan, could thus fall to a Steering Committee at a high level
in the Commission. This would make for coherent policy.
358. But co-ordination in the Commission is only
one part of a very complex equation. There has to be similar co-ordination
in the Councils and the European Parliament and in the relationship
between three institutions.
359. The Internet drives at a very fast pace and
inevitably it will produce circumstances which call for regulation.
360. It is therefore essential that the processes
of legislation be speeded up. There should be a faster track.
The way in which the Commission and the Parliament worked to adopt
the e-Commerce framework Directive is a model of how these institutions
can react rapidly. (It is important, too, that Member States revise
their own systems of transposition into national law so that the
impetus gained by fast action in the institutions of the EU is
not dissipated at national level.) However, it would be unwise
to regard the process which produced the e-Commerce Directive
as one which will necessarily apply to subsequent Directives.
The European Parliament was unhappy at the way in which the Parliamentary
process was applied in this instance. MEPs argued that it was
the role of Parliament to examine and, if necessary, revise Directives,
and that speed of enactment, however desirable, was not the main
criterion for Parliamentary action.
361. The Parliamentary process is an essential part
of legislative action at EU level. Nevertheless, it is also evident
that the improvised procedures which achieved success in the case
of the e-Commerce Directive will have to give way to a more formal
system. We would argue that this requires a serious look at the
way in which legislation is processed in and between the institutions
of the European Union to see whether or not a fast-track system
can be established.
"In strategic terms,
e-commerce is in the hands of early adopters and has yet to be
embraced by the followers. Europe faces barriers that will take
many years to change
those of language, culture, legal, social
are all part of e-commerce and how it is transacted. Unless activity
is targeted at specific socio-economic groups, ie those early
adopters of new technologies, increased demands for e-commerce
goods and services will not be commonplace."
362. Those who have tried to predict the way in which
technologies develop, and the effects they have, have usually
been proved wrong. Governments will have to position themselves
to react to the unpredictable in the growth of e-commerce. The
role of Government should be to ensure that the necessary infrastructure
exists to provide the means of connecting the market and the customer,
and to ensure that existing laws are not used to hamper the growth
of e-commerce. Self-regulation only works in the context of a
realistic threat of government interference if self-regulation
fails. But the problem with laws and regulations is how to enforce
them, and where. The Internet has turned the concept of jurisdiction
upside down, and we see a serious need for international conventions
to deal with this new phenomenon.
363. The new technologies increase social divisions
if the poor or disadvantaged are denied access, but they narrow
the difference if there is equality of access. In a world where
information is power, systems that reduce the cost of information
empower the poor. We have not dealt with employment in this inquiry,
but e-commerce will inevitably make certain jobs obsolete, if
at the same time it improves the efficiency of workers. The employees
who will suffer most are the ones who are unable to re-train for
the new jobs. Education will therefore clearly play an increasingly
important role in how our societies adapt to these new technologies.
364. The emergence, development and exploitation
of e-commerce would not have happened without the operation of
enterprise, innovation and vigorous competition. These characteristics
seem to us to be essential for the further development of these
technologies, which will bring considerable benefits to society.
In framing policies with respect to e-commerce, these are concepts
which the Government should bear in mind. In our view, governments
should provide the framework for open, competitive and transparent
markets, and adhere to the policy of regulating only where essential.
365. The Committee considers that policy development
and co-ordination of e-commerce in the EU raise important questions
to which the attention of the House should be drawn, and makes
this Report to the House for debate.