the initiative for economic transactions, even more than today, will be with the individual. The individual will trigger chains of events that lead to tailor-made services and products. It will be, in a way, a do-it-yourself interactive information society. Not only for economic transactions, but also for the needs and requirements in other areas of society such as education.

If this is to be the future, then we have to rapidly come to terms with these changes. Our educational systems, for instance, should enhance our ability to live in this way, if for no other reason than to prevent large groups of people from dropping out of the information society in the near future. We are talking here about the world that the kids who are now going to primary schools will inherit. But also we are talking here about the way government operates and why it is so important that we start soon in adapting to the new realities. Changes in government tend to take quite a few years. And this also applies to many business enterprises, in particular the small and medium-size ones.

Q: There also seems to be a distinct awareness that the new world that technology is creating is not an inevitable outcome of these technologies, but rather that a vision of how to best use these technologies is needed, and that this vision is going to have to emerge from a lot of human ingenuity and public discussion. Is this a fair assessment? What processes has Europe adopted for encouraging and doing this?

A: In Europe, we believe very much in the ability of people to build their own future. In order to help them do so, the European Union and the local governments of Europe agree that we should put a lot of emphasis on the applications of technology. In fact, for local government, the basic technologies are not an issue. They focus on stimulating businesses to make effective use of the available technologies, developing content and business tools. And they invest in the development of applications in the pubic domain for health, education, culture, transport and public service. Images of a "learning" or "creative" city underline this approach.

The European Union in its Fifth Framework Program for Research and Development is also working from this perspective in trying to develop the user-friendly information society. From 1999 until 2002, the European Council will support this development with a total budget of 3.9 billion euro, thus generating an investment in research and development of at least 10 billion euro, including so-called matching funding by participating organizations from industry and local government. Almost half of the budget is going to R&D for basic technologies and infrastructures. The rest however, in equal portions, is available for systems and services to the citizens, new methods of work and electronic commerce and multimedia content and tools. Each of these cover about 17 percent of the total budget.

Q: There is growing speculation about how technology will ultimately change governance itself. Is there an emerging European view of what some of these changes might be?

A: As yet in Europe, there is not yet really an emerging or shared view on this as far as electronic democracy is involved. By this I mean participating through some kind of a vote in the actual decisions that government takes. In the EEC's Information Society Technology program, it is anticipated that possible directions will become apparent after a first year [1999] of exploratory actions. But governance also refers to the way government services are delivered, the way government controls or guides its citizens, and the ability to participate in debates preceding the decision-making, this is happening along the lines of interactive government and interactive service delivery. [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair, for instance, has set the goal of 25 percent of all government services to be available

Blake Harris  |  Editor