Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Second Report



COM(02) 263

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on eEurope 2005: An information society for all — An Action Plan to be presented in view of the Seville European Council, 21/22 June 2002.

Legal base:
Document originated:28 May 2002
Deposited in Parliament:31 May 2002
Department:Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration:EM of 10 June 2002
Previous Committee Report:None; but see (23429) — : HC 152-xxviii (2001-02), paragraph 9 (8 May 2002)
To be discussed in Council:18 June Telecoms Council
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared


  18.1  This Action Plan will succeed the eEurope 2002 Action Plan. The Commission says that it is part of the Lisbon strategy to make the European Union "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy with improved employment and social cohesion by 2010."

  18.2  The objective of this Action Plan is to provide a favourable environment for private investment and for the creation of new jobs, to boost productivity, to modernise public services, and to give everyone the opportunity to participate in the global information society. eEurope 2005 therefore aims to stimulate secure services, applications and content, based on a widely available broadband infrastructure.

  18.3  The Commission recalls that the Barcelona European Council in March this year called on it to draw up:

"an eEurope action plan that focussed on "the widespread availability and use of broadband networks throughout the Union by 2005 and the development of Internal protocol IPv6 ... and the security of networks and information, eGovernment, eLearning, eHealth and eBusiness" .[38]

  18.4  We cleared the initial outline on 8 May 2002.

The eEurope 2005 Action Plan

  18.5  The Plan covers:

(1)  policy measures at national and European level; the development and dissemination of best practice to support the implementation of these measures; benchmarking to monitor progress and ensure focus in their implementation; and an overall co-ordination of existing policies to draw out synergies between actions and programmes.

(2)  The Action Plan proposes 28 policy measures organised into 6 chapters. They are designed to produce the following by 2005:

"—  modern online public services [in] eGovernment, eLearning, [and] eHealth;

  • a dynamic business environment; and, as enablers of these;

  • widespread availability of broadband access at competitive prices, and a secure information infrastructure".


  18.6  Six action points focus on increasing the interactivity of basic public services through broadband networks and multi-platform access. Targets are set. In addition, Member States are called upon to ensure that, working in collaboration with the private sector and using structural funds where necessary, all citizens have easy access to public Internet access points, preferably with broadband connections.


  18.7  Member States should aim for all schools and universities to have broadband Internet access for educational and research purposes, and all universities should offer online access for students and researchers. They should also initiate actions to reskill adults, including women returning to work and the unemployed, for work in the knowledge economy. The Commission will support research and pilot projects on Europe-wide computer-supported networks based on high performance infrastructures and GRID[39] technologies.


  18.8  Again the focus is on broadband and increased interactivity. Member States should develop health information networks between points of care with broadband connectivity where relevant, and ensure that online health services are provided to citizens. The Commission will make a proposal for a health insurance card, in line with the Conclusions of the Barcelona European Council and will support the exchange of best practice regarding the possible additional functionalities of such a card.


  18.9  In three different action points, the Plan recommends that Member States, the Commission and the private sector should cooperate closely: to publish an analysis of the supply and demand for e-skills; to develop interoperable e-business solutions for transactions, security, signatures, procurement and payments; and to examine possibilities for establishing a pan-European online dispute resolution system.


  18.10  The Council Resolution of 28 January 2002 on a common approach and specific actions in the area of network and information security welcomed the Commission's intention to set up a cyber-security task force to build on national efforts to enhance network and information security [40]. The Action Plan calls for this Task Force to be operational by mid 2003. Member States are called upon to examine, by 2003, options for the secure exchange of classified government information.


  18.11  This chapter refers to creating the right environment for private sector investment, and emphasises the importance of competitive markets as the key driver of broadband rollout. It also confirms as a starting point that the full application of the new legal framework will see regulators encouraging investment and innovation in the convergent broadband markets.

  18.12  Under five action points the Action Plan calls for the removal of legislative barriers to broadband deployment, and the exchange of experience to facilitate this, and for the Commission to cooperate with Member States in applying the new regulatory framework to radio spectrum policy for the introduction of wireless broadband services. Member States and the private sector should aim to offer their content on different technological platforms. On digital switchover it calls for Member States to create transparency by publishing their intentions. On public sector support for broadband rollout in less favoured regions, the Action Plan allows for use of EU structural funds and other financial incentives consistent with the competition rules.


  18.13  The Action Plan sets out four aspects of implementation:

  • Best practice

The Commission intends to work with all stakeholders to identify worldwide examples of best practice, and then to analyse and enhance these practices to provide a template or guidelines for others.

  • Benchmarking

The Action Plan calls for the identification, measurement and analysis of relevant indicators in order to facilitate and improve policy development. The Commission will publish an evaluation of the eEurope 2002 Action Plan by the beginning of 2003, and will publish an interim report on eEurope 2005 in early 2004.

  • Coordination

In response to the growing number of e-policy initiatives at EU and national level, the Action Plan proposes an eEurope Steering Group to bring together the Commission with Member States and the Candidate Countries, the European Parliament, and private sector and consumer representatives. The Group should meet every 6 months to provide a strategic overview, communicate ideas and experience, and to maintain focus in order to improve implementation of the Action Plan.

  • Funding

Some of the actions, and the implementation of the Action Plan itself, will require funding by using, and where necessary, re-focussing existing programmes.

The Government's view

  18.14  The Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness (Mr Stephen Timms) comments:

"The Government welcomes this revision of the eEurope 2002 strategy and agrees on the need to move now from the questions of basic connectivity covered in eEurope 2002, towards the interactive online services based on broadband communications that are the subject of eEurope 2005. In this way the EU is demonstrating its capacity to plan for its knowledge economy goals, set out at the Lisbon Summit in 2000.

"The Government welcomes the fact that the shape and direction of the strategy are broadly in line with those of its UK Online strategy. The detailed policy implications of each of the 28 actions will be considered by Departments and be subject to the European scrutiny process in the normal way. Among the areas to which the Government will pay especially close attention in the development of the detailed policy action will be:

a)  Broadband: eEurope 2005 aims to 'stimulate secure services, applications and content based on a widely available broadband infrastructure.' It recognises that developing broadband services and infrastructure should be market driven, and seeks to create a favourable environment for private investment. Moreover, the Action Plan is consistent with the UK's dual focus to create a virtuous circle for broadband take-up: on the demand side it 'aims to stimulate services, applications and content, covering both online public services and e-business'; and on the supply side seeks to address 'the underlying broadband infrastructure and security matters.' In the specific action relating to broadband in disfavoured areas, the Government notes that mention is made of the option of using structural funds and/or financial incentives, and would have welcomed explicit, rather than implicit, recognition of the primary importance of reliance on the market, and of demand aggregation techniques to create a critical mass as the public sector's most useful means of intervention;

b)  eBusiness: the exercise to review legislation for barriers to e-business and e-commerce appears to be more limited than necessary to deliver confidence for business;

c)  eGovernment, eLearning, eHealth: there needs to be clarification of the extent to which services need to be as extensive or as broadband-enabled as the Action Plan implies, given the decisions that would have to be taken on prioritising public spending in these areas."


  18.15  The Minister expects the Action Plan to be discussed at the 18 June Telecoms Council and incorporated in Presidency Conclusions which will welcome its objectives and format. These are then expected to be endorsed by the European Council in Seville on 21/22 June.


  18.16  We cleared an initial outline of this Action Plan on 8 May. As it happens, the final document has been deposited in time for scrutiny before the 18 June Telecoms Council and the Minister has provided an Explanatory Memorandum on it, which we welcome.

  18.17  We also welcome, in particular, the Government's support for the Plan's recognition that the development of broadband services and infrastructure should be market-driven, and its aim of creating a favourable environment for private investment. The Minister notes that, whilst targets have been set for some objectives, the Commission has chosen language in other cases that makes it clear that the objectives are aspirations and not obligations. One such is that of providing broadband connections to all public administrations, which has obvious public funding implications for the individual Member States.

  18.18  The Minister agrees with the broad thrust of the Plan, whilst expressing reservations about the treatment of eBusiness and eGovernment, but he points out that any specific initiatives will be subject to scrutiny in the normal way.

  18.19  We therefore take note of the document and now clear it from scrutiny.

38  Barcelona European Council, Presidency Conclusions, paragraph 40 ( Back

39  Networks between universities using high speed connections. Back

40  (23093) -; see HC 152-xiv (2001-02), paragraph 15 (23 January 2002). Back

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