Lamy: Commission should take member states to court in spectrum dispute

It does not make sense that the EU will not speak with one voice in the spectrum allocation conference in Geneva, says Lamy. [World Trade Organization]

The European Commission has called radio spectrum used by telecoms and mobile internet services “the basis for a digitally enabled society”. Ahead of a crucial conference to take place in Geneva (2-27 November), Pascal Lamy explains why the executive should stand up for its powers in the field.

Pascal Lamy is former Commissioner for Trade, and former chief of the World Trade Organization. Last year, he prepared a report on the future of spectrum for the Commission.

Lamy spoke to Jorge Valero.

Will the EU’s member states respect your roadmap in the upcoming Geneva conference?

My understanding is yes. There is enough convergence among EU member states on this. For the next decade, the 700 MHz band is to be deployed for ‘telecoms’, and below 700 MHz is to be kept for broadcasters and TVs.

However, the member states refuse the Commission’s proposal as a formal position. This is an issue that has little to do with the telecoms and TVs, but is rather a battle of competences between the member states and the union in a federal system.

The treaties are not very clear on the competences on spectrum. How far should the Commission go?

The Commission should go to the European Court of Justice. It is what the Commission did when there was a pretended lack of clarity on competences. We did it in Trade during many years, and the court always interpreted, at least on the trade side, on the direction of EU competences.

In this kind of international conference where frequencies are discussed and allocated, the issue is whether the EU should speak with one voice. The Commission says ‘yes’, but the member states say that we agree on defending the same position but we don’t do it as the EU, but as a collection of member states.

Frankly speaking, on an issue such as frequency allocation, it does not make sense. The coordination issues within the EU on frequency allocation are obvious, anyone can understand that.

Is there a risk of losing the race of the next big communications revolution in the field of the ‘internet of things’ or 5G, if the Commission is not more assertive?

There is always a risk, although it is limited given the high degree of consensus on substance, which is at the end of the day what matters. Also I can understand that this is a political decision to be made by the Commission. In this case, it is not only a legal issue whether the Commission decides to take the member states to court.

Since the Commissioner for Digital Agenda, Günther Oettinger is German, how this could affect the decision?

Germany is on board with my roadmap…

But is Germany in favour of transferring the competences at the EU level?

I don’t know. To be very frank, this should be within the regulatory authority of the Commission, something which is obvious. If you look at China, Korea, Japan… how they deal with that, we are weak as we are not doing things together. And the best way to do things in such a technical field is to use the regulatory powers of the Commission.

Do you think that the executive will take member states to court?

I don’t know. I am just giving my personal advice.

But for someone who has long been an EU insider, and still is… what is your feeling?

Well, it is not a secret that I stand for a more federalist position.

Further Reading

INDUSTRY GROUPS

EUROPEAN COMMISSION