EU FACTIONS ALL WANT TO DRIVE INFO HIGHWAY

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BRUSSELS-Amid intricate political infighting, the European Union is grappling with how to regulate an information superhighway still under construction.

At least three different policy-making units of the European Commission, the EU's executive body, are vying with each other to stake a claim to the infobahn with a flurry of studies and green papers, EC-speak for a policy document.

"Everyone here [at the EC] is doing a green paper," said an official at DG-10, the directorate-general, or policy unit, responsible for culture. "It's great for all the consultants but horrible for making decisions."

He should know-DG10 is winding up a revision of the five-year-old Television Without Frontiers directive that was to have banned advertising on new media.

After fierce lobbying by the ad industry, only teleshopping will be included in the revised directive (see related story, P. I-20), to be unveiled in time for a high-level meeting of EC culture ministers April 3. Interactive media will be treated separately.

"That's good news in the short-term, but it means there are challenges ahead," said Michel Deurinck, secretary-general of the European Advertising Tripartite here.

Ad industry executives would prefer self-regulation but know that without EC guidance, different countries will simply make up their own rules to govern new media.

"We are not anti-advertising," said the DG-10 official. "We are trying to guarantee the most efficient movement of services and believe that maybe our directive is the way."

"We want to facilitate trade and are concerned that [DG-10] will overregulate new media," said an official at DG-15, the directorate-general responsible for the smooth functioning of the single European market and the most business-friendly.

Naturally, DG-15 has its own green paper underway on hurdles to cross-border communication.

Over at DG-13, responsible for telecommunications, some spare cash has been found to fund a study on the future of advertising and new media. Although late to the party, DG-13 and its commissioner Martin Bangemann have a key role to play in the upcoming deregulation.

In fact, the key to eventually coming up with a coordinated policy may lie in the new Information Society group formed last month by Mr. Bangemann and several fellow commissioners, including those in charge of DG-10 and DG-15.

A new report by Coopers & Lybrand in London found that nearly 70% of European business executives worry that Europe has no coordinated approach and that Europe lags behind Japan and the U.S. because of cultural and linguistic differences.

Coopers & Lybrand warns that there is a three-year window of opportunity for Europe to close the gap with the U.S. and Japan. The ad industry believes it will have a crucial role in closing that gap-as long as overregulation is prevented.

"You need advertising as the funding for the new media services," said Jacques Bille, president of the European Advertisers Tripartite and president of the French Association of Advertising Agencies.

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