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Why You Should Never, Ever Invest in France

By Gene Mater - April 24, 2000 12:00 AM

In America, we tend to think that the Internet is a fairly positive development. Technology is a good thing. Innovation is a plus. Similarly, business mergers are usually celebrated as shrewd deals or as aggressive moves to become more competitive and better serve consumers. In France, the political culture is a little different. Here's a report from a recent meeting of the European Union. There's not a lot of humor here, just a clear message -- if you're looking for a free, Internet-friendly market, mon ami, you've come to the wrong place.

EU Summit Runs into Trouble Over Internet Reforms; French Decry 'Savage Mergers'

by Gene Mater
The Freedom Forum Online

A two-day European Union summit - with Internet development a key part of the agenda - is running into French efforts to slow the process, according to reports in British online newspapers.

Indeed, the headline on the Daily Telegraph story reads "French dig in against 'dot com' revolution," while the Times reports that "French put brake on summit reforms."

The Telegraph reports that British Prime Minister Tony Blair "was struggling last night against French opposition to radical moves that would open European economies to competition and enable them to benefit from the Internet boom."

The stories report that French prime minister Lionel Jospin strongly opposes attempts to liberalize telecommunications, claiming that the pace was "too drastic." He is supported by Nicole Fontaine, French president of the European Parliament, who called for restrictions on what she called "savage mergers" of businesses which she said were threatening "social cohesion."

Blair was quoted as saying that "70% of all e-commerce takes place in the U.S. and only 20% in Europe," adding "that is what this 'dot com' summit must be about."

Jospin is opposed to Europe trying to match the U.S. pace. However, Blair praised American economic success and said that European leaders could not ignore it.

Blair wants the EU to speed up telecom liberalization, particularly the "unbundling" of local telephone lines, making them available to all consumers, thereby driving down the costs of using the Internet.

Blair's position, according to the Times, is supported by the European Commission, which wants the summit to agree to cut Internet fees by the end of the year, connect all schools to the Internet by 2001 and have everyone Internet-literate by 2005.

However, Blair's calls for new deadlines and targets to speed up deregulation were strongly opposed by Jospin.

Nonetheless, according to British officials cited in London newspapers, Blair is determined to get a signal from the summit today that the EU was pressing ahead with removing barriers to enterprise rather than looking back to the "social and regulation agenda of the '80s."

London newspapers say that Blair hopes to return with a timetable for telecommunications liberalization across Europe to reduce e-commerce transaction costs down to U.S. levels; a date for putting all EU public sector procurement online; and measures to promote mass Internet literacy.
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