Commission Communication: eEurope Benchmarking Report eEurope 2002.
|Document originated:||5 February 2002
|Deposited in Parliament:
||5 March 2002|
|Department:||Trade and Industry
|Basis of consideration:
||EM of 20 March 2002|
|Previous Committee Report:
|Discussed in Council:
||22 February 2002 Informal Council of Information Society Ministers
|Committee's assessment:||Politically important
13.1 The eEurope Action Plan was drawn up following
the March 2000 Lisbon European Council as part of a comprehensive
strategy to transform the European economy. It consists of 64
targets allocated between Community institutions, Member States,
and the private sector, all for completion by the end of 2002.
The object of the Action Plan is to bring the EU on-line as fast
as possible. It targets three areas:
1 a cheaper, faster and secure internet;
2 investing in people and skills; and
3 stimulating use of the internet.
13.2 We have cleared two previous reports on the Action
Plan and an up-date
prepared for the Nice European Council which sets out how a benchmarking
of eEurope is to be carried out.
23 indicators were subsequently agreed by the Internal Market
Council on 30 November 2000.
The Commission Communication
13.3 This is the first time that progress on the Action
Plan has been systematically benchmarked against some, though
not all, of the 23 indicators. The data analysed was collected
by the Commission and cross-checked with existing data sources
such as national statistical authorities and private sector studies.
Eurobarometer telephone surveys were also used.
13.4 Internet penetration, the headline indicator,
is measured in two ways:
- how many private households have access; and
- how many people use the internet regularly whether at work,
home, school or elsewhere.
13.5 In November 2001 almost 50% of the population over
15 years used the internet. Over 80% go on-line at least once
a week. There are nearly as many users in the EU as in the USA
but growth in Europe was slower last year than in the US. By far
the highest growth has been in use at home. Rates of take-up in
households vary significantly, from 60% in Scandinavia and the
Netherlands to 10% in Greece, but have increased rapidly from
18% in March 2000 to 28% in October 2000, 36% in June 2001 and
38% in December 2001. The recent plateau in growth could be caused
by some countries reaching saturation, added to the fact that
the availability of PCs in households acts as a natural ceiling
in the absence of internet access through TV sets and mobile devices.
The Commission says that efforts to increase internet use in countries
well below the EU average are therefore needed, as is the development
of alternative methods of access.
13.6 Penetration in businesses is far higher than the
household rate. Almost 90% of businesses with more than 10 employees
have an internet connection and more than 60% have a website.
A notable exception is Portugal, where penetration is much lower.
13.7 The Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness
(Mr Douglas Alexander) summarises the rest of the report as follows:
" Cheaper, faster and secure internet
"The report highlights that its goal was not simply to produce
a cheaper internet, but rather to stimulate competition to drive
prices down and away from monopoly or subsidised prices. It notes
some success here with the price of standard telephone connections
having fallen substantially and continuously since March 2000.
However, this has only affected dial-up connection costs. Broadband
has generally remained expensive, with citizens limited to choosing
between two platforms (ADSL
or cable) from a limited number of suppliers. As a result, broadband
penetration in the EU (6%) falls far behind the leaders (Korea,
Canada and the US). The UK is shown to have one of the lowest
internet dial-up access costs, and to have generated new 'unmetered
access' pricing models as a result of open competition. The report
recognises the added impetus that the new communications regulatory
package agreed in December 2001 will give to fuller competition
in all convergent markets.
"The report sees the speed and interactivity of the Internet,
or rather the lack of it, as a major obstacle to its full commercial
and social exploitation. It highlights the legacy of narrowband
infrastructure as the factor restraining rapid progress and sees
broadband access as the answer. Whilst listing the options for
such high-speed access satellite, digital TV, fibre to
the home and fixed wireless access it sees ADSL and cable
as the leading solutions. It notes varied degrees of success in
broadband rollout across the Member States, with Germany having
2 million ADSL subscribers to the UK's 250,000.
"R&D networks: Significant progress has recently been
made in Europe's GEANT network of high-speed interconnections
between over 3000 research and educational institutions across
Europe. It is now the fastest research network in the world, offering
the widest geographic coverage 32 countries, including
all candidate countries.
"Security: With the adoption of 'always on' broadband networks,
the need for security is rising. The report shows an increase
in virus attacks, while the number of secure servers per capita
for electronic commerce is still 50% of the US average. It notes
that the use of electronic signatures is slow, but recognises
the success of the industry-led smart card initiative. It also
highlights that the Council Resolution of 6 December 2001
achieved renewed commitment to awareness-raising, technological
and regulatory support and coordination.
" Investing in people and skills
"In education, eEurope focussed on access and infrastructure,
and not the new ways of learning taken up by the eLearning initiative.
The report says the target of having all schools online by the
end 2001 was all but reached. However, it recognises the majority
rely upon a narrowband connection and that little use is made
of the internet for teaching purposes.
"The report notes a lower than expected proportion of workers
having received computer training, with implications for the expansion
of e-business, and the exploitation of gains in productivity.
It notes the continued digital divide between men and women,
high- and low-incomes, highly and less educated, the young and
the old. However,
it also recognises the success of the growing number of Public
Internet Access Points in reaching the disadvantaged.
" Stimulate the use of the Internet
"Growth in both consumer and corporate e-commerce has been
slower than expected. Only 4% of users classify themselves as
frequent online purchasers. There is a North/South split in the
use of the internet for buying online. Only around 20% of European
companies buy and sell online, with larger companies dominating,
which suggests that small European companies are not yet taking
advantage of e-commerce within the Single Market. The report highlights
trust as a major barrier to e-commerce and calls for a wider use
of self-regulation and codes of conduct. It also identifies a
link between high internet penetration, low access costs, and
high numbers of companies buying and selling online.
"The report finds that nearly half of EU internet users are
visiting government sites. However, under 10% have actually interacted
with their administration electronically, and most can only download
documents. The eEurope target 100% of basic services on-line
by the end of 2002 will require substantial efforts by
Member States, as the overall average range from almost 70% to
under 20% (with the UK at 50%).
"Overall, the report states that while the eEurope Action
Plan 2002 was a successful short-term tool to get Europe online
quickly, and that overall the eEurope Action Plan is well on track,
just being connected is not enough to achieve the Lisbon target.
A new focus on effective usage of the Internet is required to
bring the benefits of the Information Society to European society.
"The report makes the following recommendations:
- More policy attention to alternative platforms such as mobile
and digital TV;
- Removal of the obstacles to e-commerce;
- Widen the availability of broadband platforms;
- Close the gap between Member States, particularly the north-south
- Integration of the internet into teaching, not just schools;
- Rapid creation and implementation of a cybersecurity taskforce
- Expansion of digital skills and IT training;
- Promotion of e-Inclusion, particularly to the disabled;
- More interactive eGovernment, including following up the November
2001 Ministerial Declaration, and exploitation of public sector
- Establishment of quality criteria for health-related websites;
- Full integration of candidate countries into the eEurope process.
"Last but not least it calls for the benchmarking process
to be continued, improved, and made long term so that it helps
drive through the changes needed for achieving the Lisbon target
becoming the most dynamic, knowledge-based economy in
the world by 2010."
The Government's view
13.8 The Minister comments:
"This document was presented to an informal Council of
Information Society Ministers on 22 February. The Government indicated
that although the Action Plan is to some extent only a repackaging
of existing EU or Member State activities, it has made an impact
in a short time over a wide range. It has focused EU commitment
and effort on the necessary acceleration of legislation for the
information society, e-commerce and communications markets; prioritised
financial support from EU funding programmes; and raised awareness.
The result is that the Internet has entered the mainstream of
European economic and social life.
"The Government also agrees that the report shows that the
benefits of eEurope need to be spread more deeply and evenly across
the economy and society. This will come through the more interactive
and interdependent use of the Internet and ICT. And this cannot
be done without a step change in the availability and use of broadband
"It is expected that the Commission will be asked by the
Barcelona European Council to produce a new draft Action Plan,
running to 2005, and present it to the Seville European Council
on 21-22 June. The document concerning this Action Plan can therefore
be expected to come forward for Parliamentary scrutiny at short
notice in early June.
"The new Action Plan can be expected to reflect some of the
conclusions of this benchmarking report, as well as issues that
came up in the Informal Council in February. There are two conclusions
in the present document to which the Government will pay special
- The need to give continued support to investment in broadband
networks. The Government believes that the key support measures
by governments are the maintenance and enforcement of technology-neutral
open competition between broadband platforms, as provided in Europe's
new regulatory framework; and encouragement of the use of broadband
- The need for an urgent review of the obstacles to e-commerce,
to systematically assess the extent to which existing legislation
is adequate to address the needs of the e-Economy. The Government
agrees that regulation should facilitate, not hinder, e-commerce
and e-business. It also recognises the need to encourage self-regulation,
which has an important role in establishing trust and confidence
between partners. The UK is ready to share its experience in launching
the 'E-Policy Principles' in December 2001, which consists of
guidance to all legislators on how to consider the practical implications
on the Internet and e-commerce."
13.9 The Minister says that the Government is undertaking
a formal consultation on the document but that it expects to ensure
that a wide range of views are taken into account in the discussions
which will precede agreement on a future phase of the eEurope
Action Plan. He adds that the Commission will hold a workshop
to which businesses and others will be invited, and that the Department
of Trade and Industry expects to hold consultative events with
other Departments and third parties.
13.10 The report is important in providing policy-makers
with a measure of what has been achieved since the eEurope
Action Plan was endorsed at Feira in June 2000 and an insight
into where progress has not been made. What is, of course, difficult
to judge is just how much difference Governments have made. Certainly
there are areas where a favourable legislative climate is important,
and this includes refraining from any temptation to over-legislate.
The Minister highlights two conclusions to which he says that
the Government will pay special attention the need to
give continued support to investment in broadband networks and
the need for an urgent review of the obstacles to e-commerce,
systematically assessing the extent to which existing legislation
is adequate to address the needs of the e-Economy. He places importance
on self-regulation and draws attention to the Government's guidance
to legislators, E-Policy Principles.
13.11 As we note in our paragraph in this Report on
the new Internet Protocol, IPv6, the Barcelona Council does, as
the Minister expected, ask the Commission to produce a new draft
Action Plan for presentation to the Seville European Council in
June. Because of the Recess shortly before that Council, we ask
the Minister to submit an Explanatory Memorandum on the draft
Action Plan, on the basis of an unofficial text if necessary,
by 16 May, in time for us to consider it on 22 May.
13.12 We clear this document, but ask the Minister
to inform us, either in the Explanatory Memorandum on the Action
Plan or by separate letter, if any differences emerge between
Member States in their attitude to legislation and self-regulation
which are likely to result in a more legislative approach being
adopted than that called for by the UK.
9097/00; see HC 23-xxix (1999-2000), paragraph 45 (15 November
2000). Also (22013) 14195/00; see HC 28-v (2000-01), paragraph
18 (7 February 2001). Back
14203/00; see HC 28-v (2000-01), paragraph 18 (7 February 2001). Back
Digital Subscriber Line. This offers high-speed connectivity
to the Internet over existing copper telephone wiring. Back
of women use the internet compared to 56% of men, compare to rates
of 35% and 50% respectively in October 2000. Back
is particularly high amongst young people, those with higher education
and those who live in a city. Back