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Opening Speech by Dr Bangemann

1. Welcome and introduction

Ladies and gentlemen, like my friend and colleague Minister Rexrodt I am very happy that so many of you responded positively to our invitation to join us here today to discuss how we can best realise the potential of the emerging Global Information Networks, or more generally the Information Society.

To paraphrase the first paragraph of the Ministerial Declaration, on which we all hope to decide tomorrow:

“The emergence of Global Information Networks and of the Information Society is a highly positive development. It is an issue of crucial importance for our future and it creates many opportunities for all. For businesses, small and large, citizens and public administrations alike.

These opportunities must be seized most energetically and speedily, in order to reap the benefits in terms of competitiveness, growth - and maybe most important at all - employment, that is to say new jobs.”

That is the issue at stake during this Conference; that is what our citizens, customers and colleagues will be looking for most.

Let me, in my opening remarks try and do two things:

Firstly to put this Conference in context, as part of a sequence of events that took place in the past 3-4 years bringing us at the point where we are today.

Secondly, indicate some issues which need to be addressed, questions that need to be resolved in order to keep up with the speed of developments taking place around us.

2. Setting the scene: The first wave.

Looking back, it seems surprising that it is less than four years ago that President Clinton and Vice President Gore launched their National Information Infrastructure initiative.

We in Europe were only a little later, when in the White Paper on Competitiveness, Growth and Employment, we recognised the importance of similar developments which we called the Information Society.

At the request of the European Council of December 1993, I consequently chaired a group of high level experts that elaborated the issues addressed in the White Paper and recommended actions to be taken.

The report - now generally know as the Bangemann report - was accepted by the next European Council, in May 1994 in Corfu.

On that basis, the Commission produced on 19 July 1994 its first Action Plan. The Plan identified four groups of issues to be addressed.

  • The first group was related to the necessary adaptation of the regulatory and legal framework.
  • The second group to the developments of the networks, basic services, applications and content.
  • The third group to social societal and cultural aspects. An important issue being employment.
  • The last group concerned the necessity to raise broad awareness at all levels of society about the implications of this emerging Information Society.

On the whole good progress has been made on all issues, particularly in relation to the regulatory and legal framework at the European level and globally and in the area of awareness raising.

We are entering into full liberalisation of the telecoms market in Europe.

The two WTO agreements mentioned by Minister Rexrodt deserve to be called landmark agreements.

Awareness raising has been a key element in mobilising broad support for the developing Information Society in Europe and beyond.

Specific initiatives have been taken in this respect by the European Commission through the organisation of successive Conferences addressing different audiences and geographical regions.

The Brussels G7 Conference emphasised particularly the global dimension of the Information Society.

It established eight core principles which since have become guiding principles for the leading industrial nations in their strategies and action programs.

But the benefits of the Information Society will not and should not be limited to the leading industrial nations of today.

When I stated earlier that the Global Information Networks present an opportunity for all, I meant just that: for all people be it in the West or in the East; in the North and in the South.

In recognising this and the need for world-wide cooperation, particularly with lesser developed countries, we organised, following in from the Brussels G7 Conference, a sequence of other events addressing specific geographic areas and tailored to their specific needs.

It is indeed a key characteristic of the emerging Information Society; it depends strongly on regional, local and private initiatives. It cannot be established by a top down political decision: it lives from bottom up initiatives.

So, after establishing a European Union Action Plan in July 1994 and after laying down global principles in the context of the G7 in Brussels in February 1995, we entered into a dialogue with the countries and the regions around us.

At the invitation of the South African Vice President, who attended the Brussels G7 Conference as a guest, the first Information Society and Development Conference was held inMidrand, South Africa in May 1996 with the participation of the G7 and 29 developing countries.

The objective was to explore how far information technologies and Global Networks can help to bridge the gap between the less developed and industrial countries.

Shortly afterwards the Rome Conference on Cooperation between the EU and theMediterranean countries in the area of the Information Society focused on questions of specific interest to that region. It identified ways and means to stimulate the development of the Information Society in the Mediterranean regions and how the EU could assist in that process.

And last but not least the Prague Conference in September 1996 on the development of the Information Society in Central and Eastern European countries, resulting in the Action Plan: Towards the Information Society in Central and Eastern Europe: Twenty seven idea's for European initiatives.

Ladies and gentlemen,

All these initiatives could be characterised together as first wave initiatives with a certain focus on general awareness raising, on infrastructure development, on the need for regulatory reform: much progress has been made on all of these issues in the past years.

3. Looking ahead; the second wave.

Where do we stand now?

Full liberalisation of the telecoms market is being achieved; 1 January 1998 is less than six months away. International agreements on liberalisation are in place.

The WTO agreement on basic telecommunication services concluded in Geneva on 17 February 1997 provides for measures of liberalisation covering more then 90% of the global telecommunication market.

The challenge we are facing for the coming years is two fold.

Firstly we need to ensure that liberalisation is speedily and completely implemented.

In Europe we at the Commission will, together with the Member States, make every effort to do just that.

But equally important is the full and fast implementation of the WTO agreement in other parts of the world.

We have not even started to see what liberalisation can bring in terms of prices, competition and new services.

At the same time we need enlarge our focus for the Information Society really to take of.

Setting a favourable regulatory framework for the Information Society is one side.

Acceptance and uptake by businesses, citizens and the public sector is another target we should set ourselves..

To achieve this requires a second wave of initiatives. Today's Conference is designed to underline that fact; to identify the relevant issues and to seek to accelerate initiatives that are underway or are being prepared in Europe to bring this uptake about.

In the coming one and a half day we will be discussing all the relevant issues in this context such as:

  • The need to build confidence with consumers and business to start exploiting the potential of electronic commerce. For this to happen we need to work towards solutions to ensure confidentiality of transactions, or to avoid new or discriminating taxes.
Users must have confidence that their personal data are properly treated and protected.

Parents must have the means to protect their children from harmful content or undesirable communications.

Unlawful activities must be combated effectively.

  • The questions how to develop new forms of content to exploit the potential of the new technologies; how to build on Europe's rich content resources; how to leverage ourlinguistic and cultural diversity. This is an area that requires especially in Europe particular attention.
  • The question of convergence. Traditional borders between telecommunication, audio-visual and publishing are blurring.
What must the new regulatory framework look like that stimulates rather than hinders the cross fertilisation between these sectors, leading to radically new concepts of multimedia content and services, a potential source for many new jobs?

That is in my view on of the key questions. The answer that we give and thespeed with which we give it will determine whether we really realise the potential of the Global Networks.

These and many other issues are on our agenda today and tomorrow. We will tackle these questions firstly from a European perspective; but with full recognition that all of the issues have a strong international and global dimension.

That is why it is important that distinguished guests from other parts of the world will actively contribute to the discussions.

4. Today is a starting point.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We will not be able to find all answers in the coming days.

Some of the issues are too complex for that; for many international or global solutions will be necessary.

However what I hope we can do is

  • to set some main directions to develop solutions
  • to confirm our common commitment to work towards solutions rapidly.

To achieve this, we must all work together, be it from different perspectives. Let me underline in this respect the key role that falls upon the private sector. We are living through the transformation towards the Information Society. New opportunities are emerging. To realise these is first and fore most the role of the private sector: businesses and consumers.

Entrepreneurship and creativity will be key requirements for the future. Europe has demonstrated on many occasions in the past that it can meet these challenges.

Therefore I am confident that this Conference can mark the start of a new wave of suchinitiatives. To increase our competitiveness, to stimulate our economic growth and most important of all to create the new jobs that will bring continued prosperity to our citizens.

I wish you a constructive and successful Conference.

Thank you.


 

 

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