Ireland, with its corporate tax rate of only 12%, is home to the major digital economy players in Europe, including Facebook, Microsoft and Google. At the same time, it is still dealing with the impact of its banking crisis and trying to build growth in promising areas, especially telecommunications and e-commerce. Ironically, though, small and medium-sized companies based in the country, formerly known as the Celtic tiger', are having a hard time making a breakthrough on the web, like those in most member states.

"A small number of large players may very well end up dominating e-commerce in Europe, with the risk of leaving smaller firms on the sidelines," commented recently Ireland's Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte. This is confirmed by recent research in Ireland showing that e-shoppers show little inclination to "buy local" in many sectors, he added. For the minister, it is becoming urgent to come up with business solutions, such as simpler ways for online payments (which currently involve a lot of intermediaries) to help support Europe's small enterprises.

Boosting the presence of SMEs in e-commerce will therefore be one of the digital economy priorities of the Irish EU Presidency. Rabbitte added that Dublin would try to advance issues already under way - electronic identification, cyber security, online copyright, data protection and the cost of rolling out broadband networks in the EU - but does not aim to wrap them up. "We mustn't underestimate the complexity that can result from the fact that different member states will consider their national system as best," he told reporters. Rabbitte nevertheless hopes to secure a first-reading agreement on last June's proposals for harmonisation of electronic identification.

After a slight hesitation on what he sees as his top priority, the minister mentioned the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). "But, of course, the outcome of the negotiations on the multiannual financial framework will determine to a great extent what will be discussed in detail," he explained. The negotiations in the European Parliament and the Council will continue in parallel on this draft regulation that will repeal Decision 1336/97/EC. The CEF, included in the future multiannual financial framework, is designed to co-finance network infrastructure in transport, energy and telecoms from 2014. The Commission proposes to allocate 9.2 billion to the telecoms sector (out of a 50 billion...

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