Commission threatens to withdraw telecoms package

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As European telecoms ministers head towards a “minimalist” deal to reform EU telecoms and internet rules, Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding threatened to withdraw her proposal and put an end to the year-long negotiations.

Speaking during a press conference, Reding made clear her preference for “no deal rather than a bad deal,” arguing that the Council position was so distant from the other EU institutions that “realistically speaking, it will be very difficult indeed to reach a deal”.

The EU Telecoms Council will sit on 27 November in Brussels to agree a common position on reform of EU electronic communications. The compromise text negotiated by national diplomats rejects the European Commission’s main proposals (EURACTIV 17/11/08), paving the way for “status quo” to be maintained, according to Reding’s spokesperson, Martin Selmayr.

It appears likely that ministers will adopt the document on their table next week, which differs both from the Commission’s original proposal and the European Parliament’s amended text. This means that a second reading by the EU assembly will be necessary, foreseen for April 2009. MEP Malcolm Harbour, in charge of one of the dossiers in the package, said yesterday (19 November) that an agreement was “possible”.

In an open letter sent to EU ministers, MEPs insisted that maintaining the status quo was not an option. “If we fail to revise the regulation at the end of the legislature, we will only favour the sector’s great uncertainty, which will be in limbo while we wait for a new proposal presented by a new Commission and a new Parliament,” reads the letter.

Indeed, unless the Parliament adopts the Council’s “minimalist” documentl, further negotiations will be required, likely to strech beyond the end of the current Parliament’s mandate (which is mid-2009).

The Commission has the power to withdraw its own proposals at any stage of the legislative process, but this would be a radical move. Reding also said she was prepared to wait for “a good deal” until the Swedish EU Presidency in the second half of 2009, when a new Parliament will be elected.

Conversely, the commissioner said yesterday that it was “99% certain” that a deal on roaming would be reached in the Council next week. The Commission proposed in September to cap prices of roamed text messages and to further lower ceilings on voice roaming prices (EURACTIV 24/09/08).

Moreover, after the complete rejection by the Council of the proposals made by the Commission in terms of radio spectrum, Brussels launched a new “ambitious” work programme for 2009 to favour the use of free frequencies by broadband internet providers rather than broadcasters.

The plan should be carried out with the help of Daniel Pataki, the Hungarian telecoms regulator who has just been elected chairman of the Radio Spectrum Policy Group, an advisory body. However, member states have already clearly opposed the idea of interference in national television industries, which under the Commission’s plan might lose out to telecoms operators regarding freed-up frequencies.

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