The fresh text represents a substantial U-turn in comparison to the stance held by MEPs in view of the EU elections last June. As it stands now, the proposal is likely to meet member states' demands, paving the way for the definitive adoption of the telecoms package.
The Parliament had first decided last May to dismiss previous agreements with the Council, blocking the adoption of a comprehensive set of new rules for EU electronic communications.
By voting in favour of the notorious Amendment 138, MEPs stressed the necessity of "judicial protection" for Internet users whenever they were suspected of illegally downloading songs or movies from the Internet.
Amendment 138 established the need to obtain a "prior ruling by the judicial authorities" before taking any measures against users.
The new text deletes the reference to a prior ruling. It has been tabled by re-elected S&D MEP Catherine Trautmann, who before the June elections had fought hard to keep it.
The new proposed text is worded more softly, saying that "any measures may only be adopted as a result of a prior, fair and impartial procedure". The word 'judicial' has been removed from the key sentence of the amendment. The proposal, however, will require "an effective and timely judicial review" once measures have been taken.
In practical terms, should this text become law, member states would be allowed to introduce provisions enabling administrative authorities to cut the Internet connections of suspected offenders without a prior judicial ruling. The connections would later be restored with the authorisation of the 'judicial review'. It is unclear how long the review process would take.
France passed an Internet piracy law in September, which will allow authorities to disconnect repeat illegal downloaders. The UK government has proposed similar legislation.
"The principles of presumption of innocence and the right to be heard" are part of the new text put forward by the Parliament, in line with what was proposed earlier by member states (EurActiv 14/10/09).
The legal services of the Parliament explained that a clear reference to the need of prior judicial ruling would have had an impact on member states' exclusive competences, notably in relation to their judicial systems. It is indeed a matter in which the European Parliament cannot legislate. It is still unclear why MEPs did not realise this before starting a long inter-institutional legal battle.
According to EU rules, the Parliament and the Council will have to start an official procedure called conciliation to agree on a final common text. This procedure will begin on 4 November and it will end by 30 December. If no other unexpected hurdles emerge, the telecoms package might become official EU legislation in the first few months of 2010.