Select Committee on European Union Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Ministry of Industry, Employment and Communications, Stockholm, Sweden

  The Swedish government has recently presented a government bill. The bill contains a broad strategy to stimulate the use of Information Technology, the purpose is to make an Information Society for all.

1.  What needs to be done to create confidence and to stimulate e-commerce?

  To create confidence and stimulate e-commerce there is a need for secure communications, a common knowledge about information technology and general access to the information technology.

  Common use of electronic communications is dependent on a secure identification of the other part and certainty that the message has not been changed. The Swedish government will implement the EU-Directive on Electronic Signatures by presenting a bill on electronic signatures to the Riksdag in May 2000. The government will also revise existing regulations in order to make it possible to replace a traditional signature with an electronic signature.

  The government's decision on tax reductions for PCs, provided by employers since the 1st of January 1998, has been very important for the development of electronic commerce in Sweden. Today there are PCs in 58 per cent of Swedish homes. The government is now working to improve the ICT infrastructure in the sparsely populated areas of Sweden.

  Information and education are also very important measures especially for consumers and SMEs. It is important for the development of electronic commerce that the users feel at ease with this new medium. The government has a broad educational programme to improve ICT skills on different levels eg schools, universities, and for the working force. There also work going on to support SMEs and consumers in their use of electronic commerce.

2.  Does the European Commission's draft Action Plan: "eEurope: An Information Society for all" offer a realistic means of promoting e-commerce in the EU?

  Sweden welcomes the Commission's initiative eEurope in general. It is important to support the development of electronic commerce and secure communications. This is an area where the Member States can promote the development by working together in areas like standardisation and regulation. Electronic procurement is also an important way to increase the use of electronic commerce. It is an area where the state both can lead by example and make their own authorities more effective and less costly. The access to public information could be facilitated by governments going online.

  Sweden believes that Europe should aim for a technically neutral legal framework for secure electronic communication in order not to restrain new technical innovations. It is positive that the standardisation work is urged in order to find a system that works in all Member States. The future system must also be accepted outside the EU. Sweden therefore welcomes initiatives regarding co-operation between Member States and non Member States.

3.  Will codes of conduct and co-regulation provide sufficient protection? Is there a case for intervention by national governments and the EU?

  The Swedish government believes that codes of conduct or some other form of self-regulation, in some areas have advantages compared to traditional legislation. Since the technical development in this area is very fast there is a need for a more flexible regulation than traditional legislation.

  The Swedish government is positive to increased use of self-regulation. At the same time certain conditions on the current market must be taken into consideration. The Swedish government intend to overview the possibilities to promote self-regulation within the international co-operation.

  The European Union is proposing to establish an expert group with the Global Business dialogue on electronic commerce (GBDe) in order to start a political Dialogue with the GBDe. A co-ordination of the various initiatives might be useful. Sweden believes that increased co-ordination will be useful for the future work on self-regulation.

4.  Do the institutions of national governments, on the one hand, and the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, on the other, function with sufficient flexibility and coherence to promote the EU's objectives in the field of e-commerce?

  A way forward to realising the Internal Market is electronic commerce. In many areas, Europe is scattered into national markets not making full use of the potential of the Internal Market. This is in our view also the case for e-commerce, where a more coherent approach but still based on the principle of subsidiarity could be developed. To mention one example, the use of IT in public procurement. The development of common standards to facilitate e-commerce on a European level would greatly support the development ofe-commerce and the Internal Market.

5.  Should existing EU institutions' internal structures be changed, or new ones created, to improve policy development and co-ordination?

  Sweden believes that there is a need for some kind of organisation that, on a European level, could be a focal point and support the development of co-ordinated approaches. It would operate in a networked way [drawing] on centres of competence in the Member States. Such an organisation should support policy development in the Commission and could comprise the following functions:

    —  IT observatory and the gathering of best practices;

    —  benchmarking and follow-up on targets (eg from the e-Europe Action Plan);

    —  development of common agreements and voluntary standards as the basis for new products and services.

6.  How can structural change be brought about fast enough to accommodate to the growth of e-commerce?

  It is important to let the different applications of electronic commerce develop without unnecessary influence. The development of electronic commerce should mainly be market-led, which means that regulations should only be applied when eg trade standards and agreements are inadequate measures. It is important that the legal framework is designed whereby the development of electronic commerce is facilitated. This legal framework should, to the greatest extent possible, be neutral in relation to the technology applied.

  It is important that public authorities and organisations actively contribute to developments in electronic commerce. Public agencies should represent a model as regards the use of information technology and develop electronic services that facilitate contacts for citizens and enterprises eg by facilitating public procurement by electronic means and to ensure broad knowledge and skills among the entire population regarding information technology in general and electronic commerce in particular.

  It is also important to have a generally accessible infrastructure of high capacity that satisfies high demands on security.

31 March 2000

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