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Mrs. Flesch, Director General of DG X, looks at European role in the information society

Mrs. Colette Flesch, Director General of DG X, Information, Communication, Culture, Audiovisual addressed a recent conference entitled "Amplifying the Value of Technology and Global Businesses: Being Big and Small at the same time". The conference was organized by the CSC Vang...
Mrs. Colette Flesch, Director General of DG X, Information, Communication, Culture, Audiovisual addressed a recent conference entitled "Amplifying the Value of Technology and Global Businesses: Being Big and Small at the same time". The conference was organized by the CSC Vanguard and took place in Geneva, Switzerland, on 11-12 July 1995.

CSC Vanguard is a global research and advisory service designed to help senior technology officers, business strategists and other change leaders from the worlds most progressive organizations identify and capitalize on the emerging information technologies that will fundamentally alter their business. CSC Vanguard is dedicated to helping companies understand the strategic business implications of new information technologies.

Mrs. Flesch addressed the session of the conference entitled "Learning from the lessons of the Nation States".

The following is an extract of her speech.

"I believe that the information society is a global phenomenon in which a fundamental objective must be the disappearance of borders. My approach will be to look at Europe's role in the information society. I wish also to spotlight some of the political, physical, technical, social, economic, psychological and philosophical frontiers which I should like to see disappearing. Naturally I shall seek to draw from my own personal experience and European Commission responsibilities. My presentation therefore gives emphasis to the particular role the EU, its institutions, Member States, social partners, and citizens can play in the global information society. I may even suggest from time to time that Europe has many cards to play in this venture which tends to be presented as one in which Europe's weight may be in decline relative to the United States and Pacific regions. Within such a perspective it is perhaps worth noting that truly transforming revolutions rarely end up as their leaders intended or their participants imagined."

"Paper and paper-work, the tools of bureaucracy, are among the biggest obstacles to creating a common market in goods, services, and capital. Such obstacles must be overcome through administrative co-operation and an efficient, reliable and user-friendly system of communication and data exchange between administrations. Six then seven out of 15 Member States signed an agreement - the Treaty of Schengen - to move faster and dismantle border controls more rapidly. This led to the creation of what some call "Schengenland," which came into effect on 26 March 1995. Implementation of Schengen has been hampered for months, even years, because the information systems between the administrations in charge of fighting crime, terrorism, drug traffic did not function properly. What is at stake probably goes beyond hardware and software. In simple terms it means that the German police must trust the French police. Borders are also in the mind....."

"From such analysis an obvious infrastructure priority is to boost what is today a market of 370 million consumers by the creation of trans-European networks for transport, energy and telecommunications. This is now a EU priority."

"In bringing about the single market the EU has had to cope with a wide range of additional psychological, cultural and linguistic difficulties. It has insisted, for example, on a remarkable programme of harmonisation and standardisation which is often misrepresented as being cumbersome and overly bureaucratic. In fact, it has greatly simplified matters replacing 6, 9, 12 and now 15 different sets of sometimes conflicting standards and regulations by single Union-wide ones. The market reality created is today so attractive that neighbouring partners who are not yet ready to join the EU, or who do not feel that elements of European integration reaching beyond the marketplace are appropriate to their needs, are nevertheless anxious to be part of that European economic space opened up by the EU. As Europe's trading partners begin to appreciate the EU's growing commercial strength and seek to extend their own markets, they may find that Europe's pioneering experience of coping with cultural and language diversity and with the suppression of inter-state and inter-regional barriers will help to shift the "Old World" from what looked like a slow lane into a much faster one."

"The Corfu European Council agreed to the conclusions of the Bangemann report on ten areas of application of general interest. This enabled the European Commission to complete its action plan "Europe's Way to the Information Society". Regular reports on the current status of this plan prepared by the Commission's Information Society Project Office are now an excellent way of keeping in touch with progress. Between Corfu and the publication of the action plan, a July 1994 G-7 Summit meeting in Naples invited the European Commission to host a G-7 Ministerial Conference on the global information society in Brussels on 25-26 February 1995."

"The Brussels G-7 meeting made a significant contribution towards greater public awareness of what the information society actually is, the opportunities it provides and how to take advantage of it. The Brussels G-7 meeting conclusions spoke of "a shared vision of human enrichment" and identified eleven selected projects where international co-operation could be an asset. The first reports on the progress of these pilot projects were presented at last month's G-7 Summit Meeting in Halifax."

"Within the European Commission, the pursuit of this hectic programme piloted by Martin Bangemann - it has, of course, to be hectic if it is to keep up with the pace of change in the real world - is carried on by a wide range of Commission services or Directorates-General. Implementation of the action plan covers more than sixty current dossiers in fields ranging from the regulatory and legal framework to networks and basic services (applications and content), and social and cultural questions."

"Given that the information society's user dimension is of critical importance it is also of value to the Commission that my Directorate-General carries units working professionally on opinion polling, media support and library services. The Commission, like all promoters of the information society, needs to know what citizens, journalists and information seekers in the real world are looking for and expect from the future."

"The volume of information about the information society, never mind the volume of information made available by the information society, is enormous. A much greater priority needs to be given to the skills and techniques which will be required to identify, summarise, and deliver to appropriate end users the quality information required by researchers and decision-makers of all types and levels."

"Work on the making available of appropriate access to appropriate information for the searcher or end-user should spring from a spirit of openness and democracy. Within societies, participation in the information society can easily be perceived as a privilege. Between societies, there is concern that the information society is the latest ratchet up for the developed world, while the developing world slips further back in its aspiration towards a more just participation in global resources."

"Here again there is the threat of new frontiers, of new "borders", between government and governed, between rich and poor. This is one of the major challenges we are facing as a society. This we must not allow to happen. Whether within the EU or in a G-7 context, conference declarations which talk of "an information society destined for the people" must not be allowed to become empty rhetoric."

"The development of the information society is being and will be business- and market-led. Because of my particular involvement in the audiovisual sector of the information society I am very much aware that there is more to the market than the manufacturer and the investor. Audiovisual and multi-media technology are meeting in the market-place a wide range of consumer reaction and issues of programme content are making their presence felt."

"The nature and pace of progress is also raising fundamental issues which in most societies are deemed to require some degree of regulation, be it protection of cultural heritage, respect for intellectual rights, issues of libel law, or the shielding of children from pornography and violence. I do not raise these issues because I think Europe's culture or inventiveness are richer than others or to be censorious. I raise them because they are real world issues which do not just concern business and the market. It will take time to tackle such issues but they must be tackled if potential new barriers are to be avoided. We must all be in favour of making Europe's art treasures globally accessible, but the yearly cost that goes into their conservation and protection has to be acknowledged. We must all be in favour of seeing that writers are rewarded for their creativity and scientists for their talents, but any development of copyright legislation that prevents or puts too high a price on the type of library access today's writers and academics enjoy must not be countenanced. Where audiovisual, multi-media and interactive access to violent, pornographic or other such material is concerned there does not seem to be the same meeting of the minds. In my view Europe's political representatives have been quite right to insist that consideration of such difficult access issues must become transnational as soon as transnational access is available. Reaching agreement on what to do will be no less difficult transnationally and globally than it is nationally but it is a question to be faced and cannot be ignored. An abstentionist policy can at times be more divisive than an interventionist one".

"The future of the information society must be one which is shaped by the real needs of people and not one in which people become subject to the technology that a global business community decides should lead the market. To say this is not to be anti-business or to seek to stand Canute-like in the face of market forces, it is simply to insist that the information society is so important that everyone must be involved. A lot of thinking is going into these issues on both sides of the Atlantic. It is essential that the reflections and conclusions of all such advisory bodies and consultative forums should become as widely known and shared as possible, just as it is vital that the findings of the hundreds of research projects and pilot experiments relevant to the information society should be easily accessible to everyone interested".

"For many the answer to such calls for openness, participation, and dissemination is to say "put it on the Internet". Yes that is an answer, and the European Commission is using it. But let us at the same time acknowledge that Internet access involves an investment in equipment that is not available to everyone all over the world, that the Internet user-population is not yet typical of society at large - at least not in Europe, not to speak of other parts of the world. We must acknowledge, too, that the Internet also presents problems of security and copyright and that there are many who say it cannot continue without more regulation."

"I have been interested to note that often in discussion of such issues confrontations can quickly emerge. Confrontations between, for example, the young computer wizards who see discussion of regulation as a generation-gap problem; also between visionaries who already see themselves operating in the cyberspaces of virtual reality, and who feel that the engineers concerned primarily with the creation of an infrastructure providing enlarged access to television and communication services may, through a lack of imagination, prevent or frustrate the rapid achievement of a truly transforming information society."

"Such confrontations easily become part of what many present as the perennial struggle between the big and the small, David and Goliath. This conference's overall theme wisely suggested that in technology and in business one should think both big and small at the same time."

"My particular role has been to focus on borders that have disappeared, should disappear, and may arise. If I were to try to sum up the thrust of my message in two words that can serve as a daily maxim for those of us seeking to make the information society the best of all possible worlds it would be to take up the epigraph of a famous novel of the beginning of this century, now perhaps better known as a splendid European film. I recommend you to E.M. Forster's "Howards End" where the title page told readers enigmatically: "Only connect ..."
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