MEPs assess future security tasks of new EU Telecoms watchdog

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The EU’s proposed Telecoms authority should be responsible for the security of communication networks, which face a growing number of attacks in an area where Europe is not yet well protected. This is the argument of Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, who yesterday defended her proposal against new critics in the EPP-ED Group, Parliament’s largest political group.

Last spring’s cyber attacks against Estonian strategic electronic infrastructure, for which the culprit has not yet been identified, have increased the attention of European authorities on the security of telecommunication networks (see EURACTIV 13/02/08).

As the Estonian attack showed, the networks are now essential for the delivery of basic services to citizens, such as banking and information. Their abrupt collapse generates feelings of panic among the population, comparable to a real terrorist attack.

“Attacks will come. They have already come and they will grow,” warned Commissioner Reding, speaking at a hearing organised by the Popular Party in the European Parliament.

To tackle these emerging concerns, the Commissioner proposed strengthening the role of the EU body currently responsible for the security of communication networks, ENISA, the European Network and Information Security Agency.

ENISA started its operations in September 2005 and has a mandate until 2009. The Agency’s activities consist of giving advice, recommendations and data analysis to EU institutions and member states on issues related to the security of information networks.

It has a staff of 44 people and an annual budget of around eight million euro. In a report published in June 2007, the Commission underlined the agency’s problems “relating to its organisational structure, the skills mix and the size of its operational staff, and logistical difficulties”.

Thus Reding wants to merge its functions into those of the planned EU authority, which is also charged with regulatory issues and whose estimated staff quota is 134 people for an initial annual budget of 10 million euro, to increase to 28 million after the third year of operations. The merger should take place in 2011 when a temporary extension of ENISA’s mandate expires.

Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding defended her proposals to merge security and regulatory functions in the new authority: "It will be more efficient and it makes economic sense," the commissioner said.

However, criticism of the proposed body is growing. EPP-ED MEPs yesterday encouraged the commissioner "to think about alternatives" which can improve the current set-up without establishing a new EU watchdog.

After criticism already voiced by national regulators, member states, incumbent operators and the Socialist group in the Parliament, the Authority has also attracted the opposition of UNI-Europa Telecom, the trade union federation representing one million telecom workers in Europe. 

"UNI does not oppose the move toward harmonising regulatory practice. However, very many questions remain unanswered regarding the new authority's role, among which are proportionality, subsidiarity, its role in national market analyses, and additional value to the ERG's current functioning," reads a press release issued following a meeting in Brussels.


 

Last November, Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding presented her plans for an overhaul of the European Telecoms sector. The establishment of a new authority is one of the proposals on the table (see our Links Dossier).

The new body should replace the existing European Regulators Group (ERG), which brings together national watchdogs. The mandate of the EU agency which currently deals with the security of telecommunication networks, ENISA, is due to end when it hands over its activities to the proposed new authority.

  • 6 May: Debate on draft reports on telecoms review in Parliament's Industy, Research and Energy (ITRE) committee.
  • 3 June: Presentation of amendments to reports.
  • 26 June: ITRE vote on reports.
  • 7-11 July: First reading vote in the European Parliament.

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