A new proposal on the table of experts in the European Council scraps the assertion that judicial rulings must be compulsory before the authorities can intervene against serial illegal downloaders. But it takes on board the European Parliament's concerns (see 'Background') and makes a number of concessions regarding "the right to effective judicial protection" for offenders.
Last May, the Parliament passed an unexpected amendment to the telecoms package underlining that Internet access cannot be restricted "without prior ruling by the judicial authorities". The move directly contradicted what had been previously agreed with the Council.
The amendment came as France was about to adopt a strict law against online copyright violators, which foresaw interrupting Internet connections without any trial for alleged offenders.
The new compromise text, brokered by the European Commission and seen by EurActiv, eliminates the controversial sentence, but on the other hand stresses "the right to effective judicial protection, in compliance with the principles of Community Law". It also underlines the principles of "fair and impartial procedures, including the right to be heard".
The Council welcomed the amended text and approved it during a meeting of national delegates held yesterday morning in Brussels. "As it is now, the text represents a valid compromise, which stresses the importance of the judicial authorities but leaves room for member states to apply a variety of solutions," a national representative told EurActiv.
The standstill over the telecoms package could therefore reach an end, but the final word lies with the European Parliament. "At the moment we maintain our position," an official from the Parliament involved in the negotiations told EurActiv.
The Parliament delegation on telecoms could meet in Strasbourg on 20 October, during the plenary session of the Parliament. If MEPs agree on the new text, the telecoms package could be adopted by the end of year or the beginning of 2010.
Without a deal on Internet users' rights, negotiations could continue for many more months. Some member states are even threatening to reopen other parts of the package so far informally agreed, notably the draft directive on the new EU telecoms authority, and new rules on e-privacy and universal services.