Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1360- 1370)

THURSDAY 8 JUNE 2000

M BENOIT BATTISTELLI, M GILLES BREGANT, M BERNARD SPITZ, M HENRI BREUIL, M GILLES D'ANCHALD, M PHILIPPE LE QUEMENT, M EDOUARD GUILLERMOZ AND M LAURENT PERDIOLAT

  1360. What do you think will emerge at the European Summit Meeting at Feira at the end of June? Will the French Presidency wish to change emphasis on any part of the Action Plan? Also, what does Brussels need to do to improve its own policy making processes, so that the achievements of the Portuguese and French Presidencies in developing and implementing the e-Europe Action Plan are not lost?
  (M Breuil) We are pretty happy with the proposition of the Commission to an action plan on e-Europe. We will know a little more in a few days after Feira. We are happy. We may underline some aspects to foster the R & D aspects, to underline too the cybercrime aspects, the digital divide, European content and maybe to try to have more implication on Internet governance, particularly to create a ".eu". But at the end of the day we are pretty happy with the proposition. About the follow up, the French Presidency will do a follow-up of this action and we hope that the action plan will be adopted in Feira and maybe it will be different with the Portuguese Presidency but we will try to have something more orthodox to ask for the follow-up. I mean we will submit the follow-up to the co-rapporteur and to the expert groups. It is not the case actually. The General Affairs Council may co-ordinate but it is not a good place to talk about it.

  1361. You will have some Amsterdam leftovers to deal with as well, will you not, by 31 December, which will be high on the agenda and priorities? On question 13 in part we have already touched on this unless there is anything further you want to add to it, any special arrangements that you have devised. We have a minister entirely responsible for e-commerce, Mrs Hewitt, who reports direct to the Prime Minister. She now has what is known as an E-Envoy, a senior civil servant who has very considerable individual powers and freedoms to roam and to move around between agencies and departments and to try to seek co-ordination in a way that sometimes the individual agencies and departments are not willing to move themselves. He can come in and try to stimulate change.
  (M Battistelli) In France we have a so-called e-Minister who is M Pierret, Minister in charge of Industry and Telecommunications and Public Services. That is part of a larger portfolio. We used to have an E-Envoy with M Lorentz. He has just resigned and he will be replaced very soon, I suppose, so we have this organisation which is the task force with high level people and even some input into traditional administrations in order to make progress on the e-activities.

  1362. I was interested in the programme that you outlined for effecting the changes in the government machine. You talked about prefects and their role and you talked also about having what I would describe as champions in the regions. Are they kinds of envoys?
  (M Bre«gant) I think they are not placed under the control of the E-Envoy. They are simply experts who are put in the regions, they have not got the authority of the general secretary of the region, the regional prefect in fact, so this is simply indicative that the region has some experts that are able to cast a cold eye on things. We must take into account that before the structure was organised with what is now France Telecom we had a nice infra structure system which was in fact a public telecommunications administration in every region. They were the normal experts for the regions. Each time you wanted to create an infra structure they would give some advice and they were questioned about this. Now it is totally different so we have put new technical advisers which are totally different from the operators. They have no competition bias and they can give advice as to what is adequate for building some infra structures, for services and for everything that deals with e-society. Expertise is not extremely high there. I think it is the state's duty to put persons into each region.

  1363. An interesting concept. We have a more diffuse local government structure than you have. I am not quite sure whether this is the point we should take away and think about in the context of not so much what is happening in the UK but perhaps what is not happening outside central government.
  (M Spitz) Mrs Hewitt is on services?

  1364. She is in the Department of Trade and Industry. She is a Minister in there and she has her own structure within it but she does not have a local regional structure accountable to her.
  (M Spitz) And does she take control of the services of the Ministry of Industry which were previously in charge of the new technologies? Has she created a new administration?

  1365. It is not as simple as I described. Government administration never is, is it? There is a Minister responsible in the Cabinet Office for changing government issues, online government issues. She is responsible for e-commerce which really has an overview but she is primarily focusing on the industry side of issues and the relationship with Europe and what is developing there and our international relationships as well. She is coming to OECD next week. She has a support staff there but she does not have responsibility in quite the way you describe over here.
  (M Spitz) And the envoy is independent from her?

  Chairman: He is working to her and he also works to the other Minister that I mentioned who deals with e-government issues. We rather suspect that every time there is a very difficult problem and a difficult target to be hit, he is given responsibility for it. He is a former Treasury senior civil servant.

  Lord Faulkner: And a former Private Secretary to the Prime Minister.

Chairman

  1366. He is very considerable experience of the government machine and he has recently been in Australia, Alex Allan. Shall we move on? How do you deal with the problem of inter-Ministerial funding for Internet projects?
  (M Bre«gant) In fact our situation is rather simple. We have a general blueprint for inter-ministerial systems. The blueprint, which is the 1997 blueprint, is refreshed every year through the Inter-Ministerial Commission on Information Societies (CISI). The refreshment is also the new version. It gives some focus to a few measures and then of course, as it is led by the Prime Minister, there are several ministers here that sign the paper and each minister has to do his job. The funding comes into this framework in fact. Normally during the CISI every minister has to put some money on the table to say they will do something for intranet and they will pay for intra-net for the out-services but for what remains a true intranet funding then it is usually very small but we have small amounts that can be shifted through the Commission. The levels are rather reduced. In fact it is something called FIN, which is funding for informatics in ministries and it varies between 25 and 50 million French francs and it is sufficient to make up for what is not foreseen. Normally it is co-financing under the leadership of the Prime Minister.

  1367. How do you get the blueprint for the co-ordination? How do you get the gleam in the eye? This is the problem we see.
  (M Bre«gant) This is the traditional way of working in the French administration. Currently we are preparing one, we are drafting one at the end of this month. Each ministry brings this wish list saying what they would like to see in the blueprint. Then one of the ministries tells the secretary so he puts together all the wish lists and then we take the wishes out of the list and in the end this is the list. There are a number of meetings which are led under the direction of the Prime Minister's staff.

  1368. One of the duties of the E-Envoy will be himself to identify areas where maybe the agencies and the departments have not come up with the ideas which cross boundaries because perhaps they put at risk some of their own territorial advantage. He has the freedom to identify areas that cross boundaries and then to try to create budgets, take money from each of their budgets to create a new budget which will then fund the exercise.
  (M Battistelli) It is always the same. In fact, we have in France the office of the Prime Minister which is rather strong on two aspects. First, it is strong on legal and administrative expertise. When you have a project it must go through this expertise in order to be proposed to the Council of State and to be proposed to the Commission. He is also strong because he has a lot of advisers who are in charge of covering certain fields of activities. When there is a strong political orientation saying, for instance, you must develop e-activities, then the adviser goes to the Prime Minister. One of his advisers is in charge of implementing this orientation. He has the authority to call the different ministries who may be concerned in order to discuss with them what can be done and how it can be financed. Then there is a decision which is taken, written in the document, that is what we call the blueprint because it is written on blue sheets.
  (M Bre«gant) I was using "blueprint" in the English sense of a plan.
  (M Battistelli) For that then he is doing also the follow-up. Every month or on a regular basis he knows what kind of progress he has made and so on. You are right. Some ministries may be not political but when there are strong political wills they are not in a position to be too slow.

  1369. I think we have done the last question already at the beginning when we talked about industry. In general terms how do you see other countries, Member States, how do you view them? Do you think we are going to be able to move well together to try to catch up with the States?
  (M Spitz) We think that the future is not written yet but we are all optimistic about the development of e-commerce inside the Union. We consider that the development of the wireless, the development of the convergence through digital television, all these are instruments which support drastically the development of e-commerce especially in countries like France which could have a delay in terms of equipment as compared with the UK or Germany which are strong in terms of mobile phones or digital television. In terms of figures we have here the last report from Jupiter which is from last week. We have here provisions for the year 2005 of 64 billion euros as compared with 7.6 for the year 2000, and with 85 million consumers in the Union, and when you look at the division between countries you have on this 64 billions you have Germany 18.2, UK 17.3, France is 7.6 only, Italy is 4.2, and all the others are small figures. When you look at the category of spendings, the first category is in terms of money in the year 2005, it is travels and tours for 17.6 billion, then you have groceries for 9.6, PCs for 8.0 and books are 3.0 and software is 3.9. This gives some indication. We consider that there will not be any interference in Europe and this will be a part of commerce which will not weaken drastically the traditional commerce. We believe that the larger groceries will keep back the business of e-commerce too because they have the logistics which are very important. I think that the development could only be troubled by problems of security and technical problems and especially problems of security, security of payment, and then we come back to the financial aspects.

  Chairman: I think we have managed to get through the questions, believe it or not. Apologies to my colleagues who would like to have asked other questions.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

  1370. The answers have been excellent, very good indeed.
  (M Battistelli) Thank you very much indeed. We hope it has been useful.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.





 
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