Policy options

Characteristic of policies regarding electronic commerce is the interlink between national, European and international relation. Due to the global nature of electronic commerce a uncoordinated national approach makes little sense. Only a joint European policy, based on a defined common position adopted before negotiations on a global level begin, can avoid contradicting positions of Member States that weaken the position of the Community as a whole in international fora, and also allows the Community to take a strong position vis-à-vis the US, which itself has very pronounced positions on electronic commerce.

European Action Needed

As a consequence of the analysis undertaken to the following actions are proposed:

Regulation

  • promoting regulation and its implementation where EU intervention is needed including data protection, intellectual property, harmful and illegal content and taxation. At the same time use should be made of technologies such as pornography filters or systems designed for calculation and reporting of international tax, thus limiting legislation to what is strictly necessary as electronic commerce is still in an early stage of development. Whenever possible existing laws should be applied.
  • promoting a minimalist regulatory approach in areas such as competition policy, encryption, commercial communications or payment systems that, however, provides a minimum legal security which the market can develop. In these areas electronic commerce is best served by erring on the side of too little regulation until Internet activities assume a clearer shape. In time, some solutions to Internet problems are likely to emerge from the market itself.
  • lobbying Member States to abstain from national solutions, such as in the area of taxation. Regulation on the European level avoids the creation of new barriers in an emerging European electronic market.
  • opposing the introduction of Internet specific taxes. Instead, the EU governments should choose a combined approach of modification and harmonisation of existing tax systems and the vigorous pursuance of tax evasion, as the UK government is currently undertaking. Government efforts will be supported by technological solutions that start to appear on the market.
  • supervising the proper functioning of established experts groups and mechanism, as in the case of commercial communications. As the Commission is to keep the European Parliament informed about the implementation of the system the Parliament should use the opportunity to monitor how satisfactory it is in practice.
  • promoting the availability of strong encryption, thus favouring a competitive industry and ensuring that the EU data protection policy is credible to the European net users. If the EU is to promote information privacy it will have to support the availability of strong encryption to protect that information. It is unacceptable that Europe's competitive industry is chained because of law enforcement considerations, or that EU data protection policy becomes incredible to the European net users.
  • encouraging the Commission to push for data protection standards achieved in the Community to be applied on an international level. With its data protection directive the Community has set a standard and a common basis to speak with one voice in international negotiations. A WTO initiative, aiming at a multilateral agreement on trade-related aspects of global information flows whilst protecting the right of privacy and personal data, should have at least the same protection level for personal data as the EU.
  • demanding a concentration of competence and initiatives on electronic commerce to a limited number of Commission services in order to ensure coherence of all efforts as well as transparency for the outside world.

Structural funds

  • promoting awareness creation activities and the financing of electronic commerce projects and related infrastructure by the social and structural funds, in particular in the Southern Member States, to avoid perpetuation of major regional imbalances
  • promoting the development and funding of the public part of the Internet, disseminating education, research, cultural and governmental information to the general public. A special emphasis should be put on effort in Spain, Greece and Portugal.
  • promoting wide use in the EU of the social funds for the purpose of familiarising citizens with the new technologies, investing in scholastic programmes to teach young people and instituting technical training programmes to reach the adult population.

International co-operation

  • fostering European solutions and regulation as a good negotiation basis for international fora, thereby avoiding contradictory positions of Member States.
  • giving a preference to multilateral as opposed to bilateral negotiations
  • strengthening international organisations and frameworks dealing with different aspects of electronic commerce, such as WIPO or WTO, thereby ensuring that there is no interference or contradiction of international agreements with existing EU regulation.
  • urging the Commission to ensure that international or bilateral agreement have at least the Community level of protection
  • encouraging the Commission to support the implementation of the international MoU approach and to stop the US from further dominating the Internet governance system
  • urging the Commission and Member States to avoid duplication of efforts in different international fora and multiplication of international conferences
  • promoting not only a closer co-operation with the CEE and the non-EU Mediterranean countries on electronic commerce issues, but to financially support the development of self-sustainable electronic commerce projects.