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The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"They're hoping to draw out a radical agenda for change"
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EU President Romano Prodi
"I know what we have to deliver"
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The BBC's John Kampfner in Lisbon
"They are calling him the dot.commissioner"
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Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 09:20 GMT
EU '' summit
Romano Prodi, Antonio Guterres and Javier Solana
Summit: Romano Prodi, Antonio Guterres and Javier Solana
Efforts to bring Europe up to speed with the US in the development of e-commerce are taking centre stage in a special Euro summit in Portugal.

Ministers have been emphasising the importance of the summit as a turning point for Europe in economic reform.

tony blair
Tony Blair wants cheaper and wider internet access
They want Europe to rival America in the creation of new businesses and jobs.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who arrived in Lisbon on Wednesday night, is preparing to argue for cheaper and wider internet access.

He will also call for the removal of barriers to e-commerce.

It is hoped firm targets can be set for achieving an internet-literate community through education, employment training and support for new electronic businesses.

How the UK compares to the US
One in five people are online in the UK
One in two people are online in the US
Unmetered internet access has just arrived in the UK
Unmetered internet access is common in the US
In the US, it costs 30 to surf the net for 30 hours a month
In the UK it costs 50 for the same period of time
In the US, people log on for three times as long as in the UK
UK appeals in the past for more flexible labour markets have met with resistance, with a recent European Commission report showing that EU countries have been slow to promote innovation, cut red tape or change their social security systems to encourage work.

Freedom Party

But the gathering has been hailed as a chance to bring Europe up to international commercial standards by agreeing moves to improve productivity and completing the European single market.

With the summit concentrating on economic reform, issues such as France's ban on British beef, BMW's sell-off of Rover and the controversy over the far-right Freedom Party's role in government in Austria will be left bubbling below the surface ahead of the formal EU summit in Portugal in June.

The Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, says he hopes to make progress towards lifting diplomatic sanctions imposed by the other 14 EU countries, but that still seems extremely unlikely.

Indeed, France and Belgium considered boycotting the normal summit photograph which would have included Austria.

Rover row

A compromise has been reached about that but Austria will not be fully readmitted to the European Union family just yet.

Some government leaders want to question the UK's blocking of a deal on a new euro-tax on savings held in other member states.

Mr Blair may also face further demands for the UK to agree to more qualified majority voting in future on key areas of taxation, VAT and social policy.

Meanwhile Downing Street said it was "almost inevitable" that Mr Blair raise BMW's sale of Rover with his German counterpart Gerhard Schroeder as Trade Secretary Stephen Byers prepared for more talks with BMW bosses in Munich.

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See also:

07 Mar 00 | Business
Europe faces IT skills shortage
07 Mar 00 | Business
Internet price war heats up
19 Mar 00 | Business
E-commerce needs e-reform
09 Dec 99 | UK Politics
Blair to raise EU tax fears
08 Dec 99 | Business
UK wins on Euro tax
29 Nov 99 | Business
The perils of e-business
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