National government ministers will debate the commission's proposals Oct. 8 at the first Information Society session of the Council of Ministers. If approved, European Union members must then confirm the measures, a process that could take months.
Commissioners Mario Monti and Martin Bangemann announced the plan, aimed at encouraging the commercial development of new media in Europe. It includes an official definition of "information society services," distinguishing them from broadcasting and telecommunications services.
In addition, with the backing of the European Court of Justice, the commission will require the 16 member countries of the European Union to inform Brussels of new media regulations before they become national laws. The requirement targets contradictory rules in each country that restrict tobacco marketing and advertising to children; such restrictions have hampered a European market's development.
PROTECTING SERVICE PROVIDERS
"If member states pass a new information society law without the OK from the commission, then the ECJ will overrule that law, and it will have no effect," said a commission spokesman.
The commission argues that with prior notification, Europe can avoid the need to update national rules later. The commission also hopes to encourage investors in new media by ensuring a sound regulatory regime that will protect the rights of consumers and service providers. The plan requires the service provider to follow only the regulations of his country.
"The commission is throwing
down the gauntlet to the international community to come to an
. . . agreement through the World Trade Organization," said one EU official. "Europe has the opportunity to take the lead in building ... a regulatory code for the Internet and other new services.
"The U.S. suffers from fragmentation and legal uncertainty because many new services are regulated at the state level. Europe could avoid that pitfall if we apply internal market principles to the new emerging industry," he added. "And if it works here, then there is no reason why the country-of-origin principle cannot be applied throughout the world.
"In the U.S., for example, several states tax companies that conduct business on the Internet, creating more red tape for those businesses.
MARKETERS SUPPORT PLAN
Direct marketers applaud the commission's efforts. "We fully support [the commission and] the European Court of Justice's initiative to ensure that the member states check their future laws on the new media with the EU first," said Alastair Tempest, director general of the Federation of European Direct Marketing.
"New media are unlike traditional media because [they are] truly global," he added. "It is quite easy to imagine that, in the future, restrictions may be put on some forms of online selling in order to protect a national market. If we do not properly coordinate these rules, we shall end up with fragmentation along national lines."