Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1180 - 1196)



  1180. Presumably down the line with the Swedes as well they have got a big interest in the topic also.
  (Mr Oldeman) Exactly. This is a process which will not be finished in some months, even under the Belgian Presidency it will go further and further, but in there I think a problem of co-ordination could come up because different Councils are involved. Education is an important point, of course.

  1181. We have problems back in the United Kingdom in co-ordination between different departments and agencies where people tend to build their own walls around themselves and they do not like to have other people coming in but they are always ambitious to spread out themselves.
  (Mr Oldeman) It is a general problem. Although this is not to flatter your country, in general when your officials come to Brussels they know what the position is and it is co-ordinated. They are a good example.

  1182. We have effected some changes as well in a whole range of areas. On e-commerce particularly now we have an e-Minister and an E-Envoy, a minister who works direct to the Prime Minister. We have co-ordination on the industry side as well to try to ensure that we present a unified voice wherever we can.
  (Mr Oldeman) It is very important. Maybe I should not say this but in the past during British Presidencies I thought there was a lack of co-ordination between the capital and the permanent representation.

  1183. It might have been a little bit semi-detached as well.
  (Mr Oldeman) During the last British Presidency it was very well done, from what I saw there were no co-ordination problems between London and Brussels.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

  1184. Could I ask you a little bit more about how the e-Commerce Directive came to get drafted and how the different policy strands inside the Council helped produce that, particularly in the Internal Market Council?
  (Mr Oldeman) Do you mean specific problems? I can think immediately of a general point. It was fairly interesting that the positions of various delegations was once again a problem of co-ordination in the capitals as to which was the leading ministry. When it was the Ministry of Justice that was leading they were more legally thinking and not trying to come to "how do we help industry", roughly speaking. In other countries where the Ministry of Economics was responsible, for example, there was another approach. It was interesting to see.

  1185. So other Councils would be giving their opinions on what the Directive should contain?
  (Mr Oldeman) In this case of electronic commerce the Joint Council had one meeting of the Justice but in the end there were no accidents.
  (Mr Schober) And no conclusions.

  Lord Faulkner of Worcester: No collusions.

Lord Paul

  1186. The e-commerce subject itself is a changing one and with the changing of the Presidency how do you co-ordinate with some continuity?
  (Mr Oldeman) I think once again is it the problem of the application of telecommunications in general which is a process which is ongoing, or do you mean the legal framework?

  1187. I am talking of the general outlook on it. Each of the European countries has a different approach and different priorities for e-commerce. Sweden is very much ahead in telecommunications, etc., the Portuguese are trying to drive it as fast as they can, next the French will come and they have a very different view on this. What burden does it put on a Secretariat like yours?
  (Mr Oldeman) For the moment we are very much at ease because this Directive on e-commerce will be signed tomorrow and the European Parliament in its wisdom—I am not saying this mockingly, on the contrary—did not propose any amendments. That was an enormous acceleration of the procedure. The common position adopted by the Council has been approved by the Parliament and will be signed tomorrow. It will enter into force then. At that moment, we, at the Secretariat—you could also say the Council itself—are not involved any more. It is the Commission that is looking after how Member States do the implementation, if they do it, that is their job.

  1188. Is it really in wisdom or is it lack of understanding, like us?
  (Mr Oldeman) In general it is like if a collaborator submits a note, they first take a pencil and then start to read. I think, I do not say the European Parliament, not Members of Parliament in general, they have a tendency to see where they can put amendments. In this case I think they think it is more important that there is a legal framework as soon as possible, maybe that there are lacunae in it, but it is important that in a so quickly changing field there is something because the period for implementation is 18 months?
  (Mr Platten) Yes.
  (Mr Oldeman) In the Member States, it is only after 18 months that the legal framework will start to work.

  1189. In the e-commerce, Europe is quite a bit behind the United States.
  (Mr Oldeman) Yes.

  1190. How much effort is going to be put in to see if we are able to catch up?
  (Mr Oldeman) I think I can refer there to the Action Plan on e-Europe by the Commission where there is also a part, how are we going to stimulate e-commerce and of course the other fields.

  1191. In America we found that industry and government are working very much hand in hand and together, will it happen in Europe?
  (Mr Oldeman) A very good question. I think that is also a problem in the whole future structure. The structure now today, relations between Parliament and Council, in a certain way the Council has no face. You have in your Parliament, when you have a discussion about a law, you have a Minister in front of you and you can sack him. Here the European Parliament in fact has no partner, in fact he is anonymous and they cannot sack him. I think that is a real problem. How that is going to develop in the future, who knows.


  1192. Power does reside within the institution of the European Union and it moves around a little bit from time to time. Parliament is now a little bit more powerful say than it was ten years ago?
  (Mr Oldeman) Absolutely.

  1193. It is a little bit more powerful than it was five years ago. The nature of the relationship as well between the Council, between the governments who come together and the Commission changes as well. For a long time the Commission was very much seen to be in the driving seat, and continues to be a very big driver as well, but one gets the feeling that as there are pressures for less formal legislation, more moves towards informal arrangements, frameworks rather than Directives, and as one sees the push, I suppose, in a sense a bit like Lisbon, going in that direction, put it down to the States afterwards, we all agree on the framework, these are the objectives. Rather than trying to do it in the centre, it is over to you, to individual State Members to get on with it and try and do it and then there is more of a monitoring role starting to develop within the Commission quite different from what it has been traditionally. In a sense the political drive has shifted, to some extent. I have a personal feeling the political driver will be quite strong with the French.
  (Mr Oldeman) Yes.

  1194. And that life will be a bit tougher in the Commission, so to speak. Do you share those views and do you see this development running in the longer term or is it just a temporary aberration?
  (Mr Oldeman) I do not know. The point is, of course, that my main experience in my career is in the First Pillar where we had a Commission which made proposals, etc.. I think that without this system of having the Commission making proposals and their further competencies, we would never have got that far. The problem with the Second and Third Pillars is the governmental co-operation which is much less binding and where the majority voting does not exist that makes it much more difficult. I think you need an institution like the Commission with its competencies. Also, for the Second and Third Pillars if someone says "not today, maybe tomorrow", that is also right.

  1195. Then you have the other complications with technology coming along, as we have been describing cutting across boundaries, creating new things.
  (Mr Oldeman) Exactly.

  1196. I do not know if my colleagues have any more questions? We do not want to take your time unnecessarily. Again, can I express our gratitude to you for spending time with us. I think we may have got one or two areas where there is a little bit of a mismatch in our approach but I think it has been helpful for us and if not helpful for you I hope it has been stimulating.
  (Mr Oldeman) For us it is very interesting to meet you and to see the interest you have for our work. We are very grateful for that. I really hope it will be helpful.

  Chairman: Yes. We have explored some areas. Thank you very much indeed for coming.

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