Ash Forces EU Ministers to Meet by Videoconference

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E.U. telecommunications ministers turned to videoconferencing for a Monday meeting on Europe's future digital agenda, as airports continue to be closed across the continent because of an ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano. However, a member of the French government fears a last-minute switch to videoconferencing will impair the results.

The E.U. telecom ministers were supposed to meet in Granada to adopt a declaration on a new European digital strategy, but weren't able to travel to the Spanish city because of the ash cloud that has spread from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull.

Since the switch to videoconferencing wasn't planned, some participants will use it as an argument to reject the basis for the discussions, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, French secretary of state for strategic analysis and the development of the digital economy, wrote in a Twitter message on Monday.

Several Twitter users who follow Kosciusko-Morizet made the case that meetings like this one should always be held via video. That's true, according to Kosciusko-Morizet, but not if that then becomes an argument to only negotiate a weak declaration text, she wrote.

The declaration discussed Monday will be taken into account by the European Commission when it formulates the forthcoming European Digital Agenda, which should include measures to push high-speed Internet access and open platforms and standards.

Not everyone has the same fears as Kosciusko-Morizet. There is no reason why the results of the meeting won't be the same as if the ministers had met face to face, according to Jonathan Todd, spokesman for Neelie Kroes, the commissioner for the digital agenda. If the E.U. finance ministers were able to agree on a €30 billion (US$40 billion) bailout for Greece via a videoconference, it should work for the telecom ministers, Todd said.

Besides the telecom ministers and the finance ministers, the E.U. ministers of transport will also use videoconferencing on Monday to discuss the impact on European air traffic of the volcanic ash cloud.

In general, there is still the perception that you can't get as much out of videoconferencing meetings as when you meet face to face, according to Steve Blood, vice president and agenda manager at market research company Gartner.

Videoconferencing won't make face-to-face meetings a thing of the past, because videoconferencing doesn't offer the same social interaction, according to Blood -- even though the latest generation high-definition systems are getting closer.

Still, getting to know and trust someone is easier when you meet them face to face, according to Blood. When meeting participants know each other, it makes sense to use videoconferencing, he said.

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