Examination of Witness (Questions 1180
WEDNESDAY 7 JUNE 2000
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
(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
1183. It might have been a little bit semi-detached
(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.
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
(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 wisdomI am not saying this
mockingly, on the contrarydid 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 Secretariatyou could also say the
Council itselfare 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
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.