The European Union policy machine churns out directives, green papers, studies and press releases every day. But with 11 official EU languages, from Greek to Finnish, and the obligation to print major documents in each one, it is not hard to see why the European Commission, European Parliament and Council of Ministers are turning to the Internet.
The most enthusiastic online efforts are coming from the European Commission, the EU's civil service. The nerve centre of the EC's Web efforts is the Europa server (http://europa.eu.int/) where Europhiles can find info on EU policies and institutions including the European Parliament and Council of Ministers.The most useful pages are Newsroom, which gives a daily EC press briefing, and On The Record, which gives users access to official EU documents.
News about EU information society initiatives can be found at the EC's Information Society Project Office (ISPO) site, housed in its telecoms directorate general in Brussels (www.ispo.cec.be). ISPO, set up by EU industry and telecoms commissioner Martin Bangemann, co-ordinates and publicises EU efforts to promote the information society in areas such as teleworking, tele-education, e-commerce, educational multimedia and telematics.
Another EC initiative to watch is the multimillion ecu Interchange of Data between Administrations (IDA) programme, which runs projects that link up EU member state institutions. Its content ranges from linkups between tax offices in different member states to a trans-EU network which keeps track of illegal traffic in cultural goods. IDA has been running since 1993 and is set to roll out 33 projects from pilot stage to full implementation in 1997.
One key project expected to reach maturity before the current IDA programme ends at the close of 1997 is the Information System for Public Procurement, known in the EC as SIMAP. SIMAP expects to give users the chance to table bids for major public works contracts across the EU via a Web environment. With a 35 million ecu budget planned for 1997, another key task will be to shift IDA projects that run on a mish-mash of network servers across the EU to a generic network provided by one network service provider.
Universities, research institutes and businesses can get details about the EU's multi-billion ecu fourth framework research and development programmes via the CORDIS server in Luxembourg (www.cordis.lu). Users can search for partners to join projects, exchange information on results and get the latest information about calls for tender for projects funded by the EC.
European Parliament's multilingual Web site (www.europarl.eu.int/) is run along the same lines as Europa. It is the ideal place to keep abreast of parliamentary news, with a calendar of meetings and sessions of parliament, details of jobs and traineeships up for grabs, and a page for feedback. Session and EP News briefings (www.europarl.eu.int/dg3/sdp/brief/en/index.htm), compiled by the parliament press officer Roy Worsley. Web surfers should expect links in the future to political groups in the parliament, while some MEPs are setting up their own home pages. Contact your local member for details.
Perhaps the most welcome initiative for 1997 relates to plans by the Council of Ministers to launch an Internet information service. The council's Brussels and Luxembourg sites host most of the key ministerial meetings, but with only a handful of press officers, information gathering can be a nightmare.
An informatics department manager for the council said: 'The Internet plan is a relatively small thing. We already have a pilot intranet in-house and we will put out press releases and other information on the Web.'
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