The Council of the European Union has accepted a proposal for a Directive on a common framework for electronic signatures. The common position will be formally adopted, without debate, at a forthcoming Council session. It will then be transmitted to the European Parliament for second reading, in accordance with the co-decision procedure. Electronic commerce has the potential to become a key stimulus for the world economy in the next century, but secure transactions are essential if this potential is to be realised in Europe. The Directive concerning electronic signature is intended to remove one of the main remaining obstacles to cross-border electronic commerce. Additionally, electronic signatures will be used in the public sector within national and community administrations and in communication between such administrations and with citizens and economic operators, for example in public procurement, taxation, social security, or the health and justice systems. Different methods exist to sign documents electronically, however the most recognised form or electronic signature is the so-called "public-key cryptography". In this system the recipient can find out whether of not the signed data has been altered and check the origin of the data by authenticating its source. The Directive aims at facilitating the use of electronic signatures as well as contributing to their legal recognition. It would establish a legal framework for electronic signatures and certain certification services in order to ensure the proper functioning of the Internal market in this rapidly expanding area. Although digital signatures based on public-key cryptography are currently the most recognised form of an electronic signature, the Common position follows a neutral approach as far as the various technologies and services capable of authenticating data electronically are concerned. This approach takes into account the rapid technological development and the global character of the Internet. In order not to slow down innovation and the development in the Community of certification services, the Common position stipulates that their providers should in general be free to offer such services without prior authorization.