eEurope is one of the major projects announced by President Prodi to be implemented during the term of the present Commission. eEurope is a political initiative that seeks to ensure that the EU fully benefits from the changes that the Information Society is bringing. Its importance to President Prodi can be gauged from the following statement, included in the foreword to eEurope: "Managing this transformation represents the central economic and social challenge for the Union. It will impact profoundly on European employment, growth and productivity for the next five years and for decades afterwards."
One part of eEurope concentrates on the need to accelerate on-line buying and selling of goods and services in Europe. It is recognised that Europe lags far behind the US in this area.
Various analyses have been made as to why the European e-commerce market is less developed than the US model. There are, clearly, a number of reasons - including the language barriers in Europe when searching for products or services, the percentage of EU firms that have not yet established on-line selling mechanisms, etc. However, a major reason for the lack of take-up appears to be a lack of trust or confidence on the part of the buyer. How can the buyer be confident that an on-line seller is in fact a bona fide company, and how can the buyer be confident that - in the event of the service/goods being unsatisfactory - he or she will be able to complain or seek redress?
There is now a very strong political imperative to prompt various actions that will create trust in doing business over the Internet. Indicative of this interest is the fact that many different Directorates General wish to claim partial "ownership" of the issue, including the Enterprise, Information Society, Justice and Consumer Affairs DGs.
The Lisbon summit, on 23-24 March, referred specifically to dispute resolution in its conclusions: "...the Commission and the Council to consider how to promote consumer confidence in electronic commerce, in particular through alternative dispute resolution systems."
Eurochambres has a keen interest in on-line dispute resolution for a number of reasons:
§ We wish to ensure that EU firms do not find themselves at an even greater competitive disadvantage to their overseas counterparts. § We agree that the provision of on-line dispute mechanisms will encourage more confidence on the part of consumers, thereby leading to more demand.
§ We wish to be highly visible - politically - on this topic, which impacts on so many businesses, and which has the attention of European institutions, national governments and Chambers themselves.
§ We see the potential to create a distinctive role for Chambers of Commerce, with clear revenue potential.
§ And, as so many European Chambers already offer arbitration/mediation/conciliation services, we wish to protect this aspect of Chambers' existing business.
With regard to this last point, the Italian Chambers of Commerce have recently produced a very informative booklet that summarises the activities of all EU Chambers which are active in this field.