Success of eEurope initiative underlined as web use soars

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Series Details Vol 7, No.12, 22.3.01, p13
Publication Date 22/03/2001
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Date: 22/03/01

BY NEARLY all accounts, the European Commission's eEurope action plan has got off to a good start.

President Romano Prodi first came forward with the idea to encourage EU businesses and citizens to make the most of the new economy at the end of 1999.

The scheme, called 'eEurope', was subsequently endorsed by Union leaders at last year's 'dotcom summit' in Lisbon and has formed a key plank of the Commission's enterprise policy for much of the past year.

Analysts say eEurope has succeeded where other Commission action plans have failed because the Union's national governments have decided to give their full support to the scheme.

Since Lisbon, Internet penetration across the EU has grown rapidly. The number of people connected to the web increased by 55% between March and October last year and the Union now has as many Internet users as the US.

Moves to get all of the EU's schools online - a key aim of the action plan - are also moving ahead impressively. The Commission says that next year member states should concentrate on bringing the web into classrooms by setting themselves the target of ensuring one PC for every five pupils.

On the legislative front, eEurope has given a much-needed push to a number of initiatives aimed at growing the Union's new economy. Perhaps the most important single change in the past 12 months was the decision to 'unbundle' the local loop or last kilometre of telephone services in the EU's 15 member states. Since the beginning of this year, Europe's state-backed telecoms operators have no longer had the sole right to provide local telephone services.

The move has already begun to have an effect on the cost of Internet connection charges, for example, and telecoms experts predict that the cost of surfing the web will continue to fall over the coming year.

But while the Commission is pleased that eEurope has had such a good first year, the institution insists that the action plan has still not achieved all of its goals.

Aside from moves to increase Internet use in schools, the EU executive says governments must ensure that all basic administrative procedures - such as filling in tax returns - can be completed online before the end of next year. It also says the Union has an urgent need to thrash out a clear set of rules for doing business in the new economy.

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