European Commissioners Martin Bangemann and Marcelino Oreja announced a green paper this week, addressing the thorny issue of convergence.
The paper responds to the growing evidence that new digital technology is blurring the lines between the IT, telecomms and audio-visual industries.
The Commission hopes the paper will initiate an EU-wide debate, open to all interested parties, on the future of regulation in the converging industries. Commissioner Bangemann stressed that the green paper did not commit to any particular course of action.
"We have taken this step now to give people the chance to comment on what is a very complex issue. We have not taken any political steps, this is all we are doing for now," he said.
Commissioner Oreja, responsible for audio-visual policy, said: "In areas like this, where the situation is still unclear, it is important to write green. It is a question of opening a dialogue without committing to a stance."
The green paper asks a number of questions without attempting to provide any solutions at this stage. The key question is whether current sector specific legislation will still be relevant in the light of the digital revolution.
Standardisation, research and development, consumer and national regulatory sovereignty issues are amongst the topics put up for debate.
Bangemann made his feelings on the subject of regulation clear, by reiterating his free market credentials. But he did not rule out new-style regulatory measures in the future.
"It is clear that in the future we will have to use far less detail than now, and we shall also have to think globally. That is why I have been talking about an International Charter, and I have agreed to have this discussed at the earliest possible stage under the UK presidency," he said.
Oreja also refered to some measure of regulation that will be required to "preserve Europe's cultural and linguistic diversity". However, neither would be drawn on the subject of a supranational European regulator.
The next stage is an "unusually long", according to Bangemann, five-month consultation period, with a report expected by June 1998. The European Council and Parliament will adopt resolutions in the second quarter of 1998, and a convergence action plan is scheduled for the end of 1998.
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