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ip/98/114

Brussels, 4th February 1998

Globalisation and Information Society: Commission proposes International Charter to strengthen world-wide coordination

Industry, users and public interests require greater consistency in global rules for doing business electronically and using the global communication networks for a variety of purposes. Therefore following a proposal of its members in charge of industrial affairs and telecommunication and external relations and trade policy, Martin Bangemann and Sir Leon Brittan, the European Commission today recommended in a communication to launch an international debate regarding global communications policy, to set a framework for international policy cooperation and to start a process which could lead to the adoption of an International Communications Charter. An International Charter would be a multi-lateral understanding on a method of coordination to remove obstacles for the global electronic marketplace. It would recognise the work of existing international organisations and promote the participation of private sector and relevant social groups, but it would neither be legally binding nor would it establish an international supervisory authority. The Charter could be agreed by or in the course of 1999. For the purpose, it is proposed, in the course of 1998 or early 1999 at the latest, to either organise a specific international Ministerial Conference or take advantage of one of the already planned international events at Ministerial level.

A need for greater consistency in global rules

The European Union (EU) has begun to formulate several policy lines on electronic commerce by stimulating the development of an internal market for electronic services whilst safeguarding public interests (cf. Communications on "A European Initiative in Electronic Commerce COM(97)157 IP/97/313", "Harmful and Illegal Content COM(97)623 IP/97/862"). In parallel, the EU is contributing to the formulation of a global framework for communications and electronic commerce, for instance through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement on basic telecommunication services, the agreement on tariffs for information technology products, and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) agreement on the protection of intellectual property. Worldwide there are numerous initiatives and regulatory actions exist at national and regional levels. These activities are not always coordinated and sometimes reveal divergent approaches. III-adapted or fragmented regulation, however, will hinder the development of the "on-line" economy from which business and citizens have much to gain. Electronic commerce is forecast to reach ECU 200.000 million in trade by the year 2000.

As a principle, the legal frameworks of the off-line world will be applied to the on-line world. However the technical possibilities of open networks like the Internet are already beginning to put legal structures to the test in various fields of existing law. In some cases, the specific character of the borderless electronic marketplace require clarification or adaptation of existing legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms.

For example:

· The Electronic networking of activities is giving rise to a more global labour market. Trans-national work in this context is likely to have implications with regard to the applicable law for labour-related issues. Adequate international mechanisms which can solve disputes regarding trans-national work may be needed.

· Significant differences in data protection regulation or the absence of data protection at regional and national levels are likely to hinder crossborder electronic trade and use of global communications.

· Online global advertising with national or supranational trademarks in the absence or international agreed principles may also not be without risks. The limitations of the Internet domain name system are giving rise to legal battles involving national rightholders sharing the same trade mark. As many as 10 different organisations are directly involved in decision-making for the Internet's Domain Name System and an International debate on its future governance is underway.

· Existing frameworks and mechanisms providing consumer protection will also need to be clarified. A major inhibitor to consumers is the difficulty in locating the origin of products fall short of the advertised quality standards or prove to be unfit for the intended use.

 

 In this context, the international community needs to answer two questions:

 "What are the most urgent obstacles and what are the most effective means to remove them?"

 

 Developing a method of coordination: an International Charter

 

 The Commission does not think that a new international supervisory authority or a set of binding rules would be the appropriate answer. However a common global approach is necessary. The communication proposes therefore to agree in the course of 1999 on an International Charter. It would be be a multi-lateral understanding on a method of coordination to remove obstacles for the global electronic marketplace. It would be legally non-binding, recognise the work of existing international organisations, promote the participation of private sector and relevant social groups and contribute to more regulatory transparency. The Commission, in the course of 1998, will invite industry and experts of Member States, international partners and consumers groups to participate in a round table to provide an opportunity to present their views. Furthermore, it is proposed, in the course of 1998 or early 1999 at the latest, to either organise a specific international Ministerial Conference or take advantage of one of the already planned international events at Ministerial level.

 

 

 The next steps

 

 The European Commission will:

· Discuss with Member States an agreement on the procedure. Such opportunities will arise in the forthcoming Telecom and General Affairs Councils.

· Invite experts from users and others including international partners to a round table meeting in 1998 to obtain a more comprehensive picture;

· seek to promote an active, EU-wide contribution to the consensus building process, by both private and public sectors.


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