Welcome for EC efforts on HDTV

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LEADING European electronics companies yesterday welcomed a new effort to break the deadlock over EC efforts to support high- definition television (HDTV). The European Commission will seek compromise proposals to end a row with Britain over HDTV, Martin Bangemann, the industry commissioner, said on Thursday.

The move is part of an attempt to give new impetus to EC policy on high technology. Outlining his programme for this year, the German commissioner said he intended to use his position to boost European competitiveness, particularly in telecommunications. Commission proposals for HDTV, at the core of its strategy for high technology, were thwarted when Britain refused to support them late last year.

The British government has argued that the standard that the Commission has championed, D2-MAC, would be obsolete before it could be brought to the market place. Mr Bangemann said yesterday that he believed the analogue MAC standard could be ditched and other, digital, standards used instead. EC plans should be reoriented to back use of new wide cinema-style TV screens, Mr Bangemann said.

Philips, the Dutch electronics company and one of the leading players in the sector, said yesterday it broadly welcomed the Commission's move. With Thomson, the French company, Philips has been involved in working on digital standards for use in the US. Currently US companies have a lead in the technology.

The EC had intended to use its HDTV programme to set a global lead, but Mr Bangemann's statements are a recognition that this strategy must be rethought. Philips believes that existing work done on HDTV will not be wasted, and had already announced moves in the same direction as Mr Bangemann's suggestion. Mr Bangemann said he hoped the Commission could agree a compromise that might be acceptable to Britain, and could perhaps agree it at a special meeting of the Telecommunications Council. He emphasised that this had not yet been agreed by the full Commission, but added: 'It's a situation which necessitates a solution.'

Mr Bangemann indicated that he believed telecommunications were at the top of the industrial policy agenda for this year. Investment in telecommunications networks was a quick, efficient way of stimulating the European economy, he said. Cash is available for this under new plans for improving infrastructure networks between EC states, and from funds agreed at the Edinburgh summit under the European Growth Initiative. The first projects under this scheme are to be unveiled next week by the European Investment Bank.