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Information society policy has undergone extensive change in recent years in recognition of the extent of the challenge and the opportunities which new technologies represent for governments and business. New information and communications technologies have the potential to impact extensively on the economy, providing new jobs, changing existing work patterns and stimulating growth. This impact has already been felt in other regions of the world, especially the US. The new Commission which arrived in summer 1999 quickly realised that, in order to fully benefit from the potential of this so called 'new economy', a coherent and broadbased European strategy was required.
eEurope - An Information Society for all
This is why the European Commission launched the eEurope initiative in December 1999. This initiative, which provides a comprehensive strategy to bring Europe into the digital age, was welcomed by the Lisbon and Feira European Councils. At the latter, the eEurope 2002 Action Plan was endorsed, providing an extensive roadmap of all necessary actions to achieve the objectives of eEurope by 2002. The Action Plan focuses on three main objectives:
Altogether there are eleven key areas for action under these three objectives addressing all aspects of Europe's Internet strategy for the coming two years.
The link with research
Ensuring that these objectives are reflected in the work of the IST programme is an important element of the Action Plan. In many key areas of eEurope research funding has the potential to support positive change and quicker dissemination. Already the IST programme is providing extensive support to the objectives of eEurope in areas like smart cards, more secure networks, health on-line, intelligent transport systems and educational multimedia tools. This successful integration of long term research with short term political strategy has shown that synergies between the two can be successfully achieved in spite of their different time horizons.
A simpler and more liberal Telecommunications framework
Another key element of eEurope is the revision of the current telecommunications regulations. The liberalisation of the Telecom sector was one of the major successes of the Commission in recent years, however, the resulting framework was complex. In addition, the changing nature of the telecommunications environment meant that the framework, successful though it was in delivering a liberalised market, quickly became out of date. The Commission proposals for the revised framework would simplify the situation extensively. eEurope has already stimulated the rapid adoption of this new framework with successful agreement on the unbundling of the local loop by the end of 2000 achieved in Lisbon.
Other key aspects of policy
economy requires a legal framework and common standards. Much progress
has been made in ensuring that European business have legal certainty
in relation to issues like e-commerce, data protection in on-line interactions,
use and export of encryption technology and the use of new techniques
like e-signatures or e-money. Stimulated by the momentum created by
eEurope, the Commission, in co-operation with the Council and Parliament
has made extensive progress in ensuring that an appropriate legal framework
is in place to support the broader use of the Internet for business.
In addition the development of European standards to ensure interoperability
is progressively showing results on the marketplace. eEurope has put
particular emphasis on the need for common standards in the smartcards
area, but there are many other standardisation initiatives which contribute
to the overall aim.