Are EU Initiatives Just Another Wish List?

The European Commission, the executive agency of the 15-country European Union, proposed specific initiatives yesterday that would cause e-commerce to skyrocket on the continent — that is, if they are implemented.

Recognizing that cheaper Internet access is the key to building a strong e-commerce base, the commission is calling for all European telecommunications companies to open their networks to competitors by the end of 2000.

Additionally, the governing body is recommending that leased line tariffs be “significantly reduced” during this same time period. It also suggests that the frequencies for wireless multimedia systems be allocated and established no later than 2001 — an obvious attempt by the E.U. to hedge its bets by stimulating the wireless platform for e-commerce.

Accelerating E-Commerce

Along with these measures, the E.U. has agreed in principle that the following e-commerce initiatives should be put in place by the end of 2001:

The creation of an “.eu” suffix for Internet sites to promote pan-European Web sites.

All E.U. public procurement transacted via the Internet.

An aggressive campaign to train small and medium sized companies about e-commerce.

The upgrading of Europe’s Internet infrastructure for researchers and students.

Support for the adoption of standards for “smart cards,” which can be used to make electronic payments.

A review of E.U. policies on the regulation of venture capital funds and the proposing of “innovative forms of capital raising,” including partnerships between governments and venture capital firms.

Looks Good On Paper

While these initiatives certainly look good on paper, one has to wonder what the odds are that the E.U. can really implement them.

Hefty tariffs on telephone lines have been one of the major obstacles keeping e-commerce from reaching critical mass in many European countries — yet European telecommunication companies have dragged their feet at the prospect of lowering them.

The fact that a group of politicians have agreed that these tariffs should be lowered — and markets opened — certainly will not make it so.

While the members of the E.U. seem united when it comes to e-commerce matters, I’m not sure the CEOs of many staid European corporations share in the consensus.

Still, there is no doubt in my mind that these E.U. initiatives must be implemented quickly if Europe is serious about becoming a real e-commerce player.

Unfortunately, I believe that centuries of rivalry and tradition will probably reduce these initiatives to just another wish list that disappears into oblivion.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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