Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1120 - 1139)



  1120. You have now been working in the meantime on implementation and setting out the plans on translating this into specific targets for the review to take place. Are you encountering from any of the States opposition to particular chapters?

  A. My understanding of the reaction, but of course they are first reactions because we just adopted the plan ten days ago, is that there is no resistance on issues but there are obviously issues where Member States are more interested and want to develop more and then there are issues which do not seem to attract much interest. I would not say it is resistance. I think there are also I think a few targets where Member States seem to say "we may not be able to do this, it is too precise, too ambitious". At the same time there are other issues where Member States want us to develop more what is in the plan now and we will do that.

  1121. Am I being a bit unfair if I ask you to give us a bit more detail on that?

  A. Okay. My difficulty now is that the first time Member States saw this was yesterday.

  1122. We had it a while ago. We had advance copies.

  A. The first meeting of Member States representatives on the text to have everybody's comments was yesterday in Lisbon under the Chairmanship of Mr Cago, the Portuguese Minister. My information now has been very quick information because some people only came back late last night and I have been in meetings since 8.30 this morning so you will understand. I can already say from the comments and the contributions I got before, for example you see Italy who is particularly interested in e-governance and government online. They were insistent on having not only government online for business but also for citizens. They were very interested in developing that aspect of the plan, that is their particular interest. From the United Kingdom I got a lot of comments on the question of competition, price of access to the net, etc. The French Presidency is very keen on taking up the initiative. I have had several meetings with them already. They would like some more development, and this links to one of the questions you are asking about international aspects, they think we need more visibility at international level, more action at international level. That has been my comment from the start. Our priority first was to build an e-Europe. Surely this is something we will develop more. Also the French want more emphasis on research, that is they are saying this is not only a question of creating research networks, there is also a research issue on developing the needed technologies, etc. They also want more emphasis on the question of cyber criminality and they will probably organise a conference on this issue during their Presidency. We know that we can count on their very active support for the initiative.

  1123. So it is going to be taken forward with enthusiasm by the French?

  A. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. There are certain issues on the other hand that did not attract the great enthusiasm and, for example, one is the health issue. It may be a question of interlocutors, I do not know. It may be that people who are involved in these issues feel that health is really something for other specialists. My feeling is it may have to do with the division of competencies rather than a real lack of interest in that issue.

  1124. It really brings us back to the heart of the issue, how do you co-ordinate, how do you move this all forward, is it possible to do that?

  A. I was told that strangely enough Member States do not want to see the IDA initiative in there but it does not change much, the fact that it exists. There are quite a few things like that. We have taken out, for example, risk capital from our initiative. We did not keep it in the Action Plan because we thought it was fairly well covered otherwise. It is not saying that it is less important as a support for the development of eEurope. There is just no value added in covering it in this context.

Viscount Brookeborough

  1125. My question was under five and you have already said there was not a great deal of consultation about that document because you wished to get the European side first. You have looked at other countries, especially the USA, are you happy that when you come to do that that we will be coming more into line or it will be more possible to associate with America?

  A. My feeling is that for the moment it is true that we have not given the proper visibility to the initiative at the international level, even though we have started doing so, for example, with developing countries in the e-development initiative.

  1126. You looked at America anyway before.

  A. In terms of international relationships the reaction has been a sort of patchwork reaction on certain issues like frequencies. I think we have been very successful in Istanbul to secure frequencies for third generation mobile. We have been very successful in the negotiation on privacy with the Americans, the data privacy issue. What there has not yet been is full debate on the whole of the initiative. You must also see that a lot of those things have to do with internal questions, they are not necessarily questions that have an international dimension.

  1127. To what extent have you confided in Central European states that will be joining the EU next?

  A. There have been debates with these countries. We are encouraging them to develop similar initiatives on the basis of our initiative. We are encountering success. Some of those countries, I cannot remember which ones because it is not really my field, have started an action plan at the national level similar to that inspired by our initiative. It does have a positive hold in that respect and it is certainly used in that context to encourage them to do that.


  1128. Clearly there is a case for a number of initiatives to be taken at the international level but there is also a danger sometimes, is there not, that by raising your sights to international issues you actually take your eye off the ball of dealing with the pressing urgent issues in plans that have already been defined in areas for which targets have been set? Is not one of the dangers that some of the countries are rather slow to move on liberalisation and this is really needed to actually get e-commerce moving?

  A. Yes.

  1129. By going for international issues we avoid addressing those topics.

  A. In a sense this is probably the field where we have been fastest in reacting to Lisbon. We issued in April a Recommendation on the unbundling of local loop. We have issued a Communication which clearly says that where Member States refuse to apply the rules we will act on the competition rules. That is what we announced last year in the review, the 1999 review, and certainly we will use it. There is still a question over whether that Recommendation was sufficient and whether we need a Directive. My feeling is that it may create legal confusion because we already have a recommendation which is clear enough, we have a Communication that explains the competition rules will apply and we have competition rules and we have the competence to act on the competition rules. Whether a Directive will add efficiency to the system I am not sure because a Directive, even if we could adopt one quickly enough, and I am not excluding that, we could adopt one in the coming weeks, it has not been decided yet, will need to be adopted by the Council and Parliament and then be transposed. I am not sure that this is a very efficient system. My knowledge from certain Member States is that by then they will all have unbundled. They do not intend to wait for that. The pressure comes from the national regulatory authorities who would like first of all to be involved rather than the Commission to act on the competition rules. I am still not convinced that we need an additional instrument. The way we have defined the review of communication policy points to the direction where we simplify legislation. We announced our intention to replace the 25/26 Directive by a minimum number of probably five Directives. Adding another Directive on unbundling the local loop when we already have an instrument seems superfluous. I am fairly confident that we are moving fast in this field. I am not saying the situation is perfect now but I see things moving rather fast. I see good preparation in the Member States to open.

  Chairman: Coming back to the Commission, Lord Paul had a private session last night with Commissioner Kinnock.

Lord Paul

  1130. First of all, may I apologise for getting held up for a couple of minutes.

  A. I was too.

  1131. Your reform programme is very ambitious and very good but do you think it will really improve all levels in the Commission?

  A. My portfolio does not cover any administrative issues and I am rather grateful for that. My personal action in this is really an action of trying to change the culture of people. My personal way of working is to try to convince people that they have an interest in changing the habits of working rather than having reforms on paper. That is not to criticise the reform on paper, we certainly need it and I can talk a bit about the peer review, etc., which I have been following at least with the DGs I am in charge of. My every day battle, and I am very active in all the meetings I hold with Cabinets and services, is to try to not get away from the vertical organisation of the Commission, because I think you cannot avoid having DGs in charge of external affairs and DGs in charge of transport, etc., but to convince people at service level and at Cabinet level that they should be working in a different way, they should work much more in a network way and they should understand that when they start a project they should not wait for the co-ordination to take place at the end of the day when they have a project fully written.


  1132. Do you think dispersing the Cabinets has been a success or has it, in fact, undermined the objectives?

  A. I do not think that is changing much. We have very good co-operation. We use e-mail enormously. I exchange an enormous number of e-mails with my colleagues. We use our meetings to discuss other things. We have co-ordination, etc. I think the main change in mentality is not so much with Cabinets, Cabinets are people who work very well together. By the necessity of things, every time you prepare a Commission meeting you exchange dozens of phone calls with your collaborators in other Cabinets and we are used to doing that. It is at service level that they do not have that instinct at the beginning of their projects. It would help them gain competencies that they do not have. For example, the Transport DG is full of experts on transport but the day they write regulation on the public procurement of the transport sector, they should not start drafting alone, they should contact their counterparts in DG MARKT and work with them from the start. They would gain in the exchange and they would reach a better project. They would have less problems in the service consultation, they would create for themselves a personal network. It is a question of changing the culture and convincing people that it is not just the procedure but a question of culture. That is my vision of reforms. I think co-ordination is most important.

Lord Paul

  1133. Your reputation is very much ahead of you in trying to do what you want to do and in doing what you say you want to do.

  A. I do not know what reputation I have. I am a bit worried when I hear you have got a reputation because by definition you do not know. I do not have a reputation of being easy, I know.

  1134. Last night Commissioner Kinnock was also saying that he is very much interested in getting all of these things done. What are the main obstacles that you see?

  A. The main obstacle is that people fear change. There is a natural tendency for people to fear change. A lot of people in the Commission have been doing the same thing for ten years, 20 years, and yesterday I met a lady who had been working on the same very small thing for 22 years and she was very proud of it and was absolutely terrified at the idea that she would have to do something else. Obviously she will not be on the street. My feeling is that of a big resistance. Also maybe we should better inform people. We do not know exactly where we are going by definition. We know what our objectives are but we do not really know where we are going because at the moment we are trying to see what every DG is doing, what is the balance between their resources and their tasks. We have been asking all of those DGs to check what they would give up if they were forced to give up five per cent of their resources, ten per cent. You must be aware of this exercise. I find it is a cruel exercise for certain DGs which are obviously under-staffed where there are core tasks. What is the Commission all about? To me the Commission should be more about its core business of internal market, competition, policy issues, rather than, for example, giving money to thousands of projects. That is my feeling. When I see the resources of DGs I can see that the real operation of DGs, like DG Competition, DG Taxation, Customs DG, the Internal Market. They are small DGs even though they are in charge of core business while DGs Enterprise, Research, part of Information Society are huge DGs, they have hundreds of people managing programmes and the question is what is the value added of some of those programmes.


  1135. If you had the freedom to do anything you wanted in the next six months, what would be the most important things in your mind as the priorities that you would do?

  A. In the reform?

  1136. If you were completely in charge, yes.

  A. Does that stay here? I do not know. I would scrap some of DG Enterprise. I would take out from DG Enterprise the operational part, which is the internal market aspect, and put it in DG MARKT because there is no reason why the internal market for goods should be in DG Enterprise. I think there is a whole part of that DG that is actually defending traditional sectors of the economy that have had very powerful lobbies and want the Commission to do sectoral studies which could be done at a sectoral level. There are sectoral federations at sectoral levels that could very well do this, we do not need to defend specific sectoral interests. We should take account in horizontal policies, of their impact on different sectors. That does not exclude taking account of the fact that when we propose Directives in the environment this has an impact on the chemistry sector but I am not sure we need a chemistry unit to tell us. I am being very frank, maybe, as usual, too frank.

  Lord Paul: It is nice to hear this.


  1137. We will make you feel better.

  A. When I say "scrap", obviously this is a very extreme idea.

  1138. Re-organise.

  A. Re-organise. I also think that we should rethink a lot of our research programme. For example, in the eEurope initiative we mention the need for a research network. I think there would be much stronger leverage of Community funds if we were to use Community funds to create networks that benefit all researchers, all universities, all research institutions, than giving money here and there to hundreds of small projects. We could help them by the infrastructure to work together rather than financing their co-operation. It would be much less costly in terms of management. You would not have people who spend all their year managing six projects, 12 projects, with pressure from specific interest groups.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

  1139. This is very much on this sort of theme. We saw the E-Commerce Minister had an evidence session three weeks ago, Mrs Hewitt, and she argued then that the Industry and Internal Market Councils should be brought together and turned into a Competition Council.

  A. I saw that question.

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