European Council agrees on new version of the Telecom Package
The European ministers with responsibility for telecommunications arrived at a joint position on the planned amendment of the Telecom Package at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday 27th of November. They largely accepted the compromise proposed by the French presidency of the Council that copyright aspects should be excluded. Proposed amendment 138 to the framework directive for the regulation of the telecommunications market, which the European Parliament proposed in order to ensure that users could access "lawful content", was not accepted by the Council. The European Parliament had wanted to ensure that any interference with the rights and freedoms of end users would require a court order.
During the debate, Denmark and Austria were among those wanting to keep that clause, signalling their opposition to the controversial French plans to introduce a system of "graduated response" to copyright infringements, which could go all the way up to barring access to parts of the internet. Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary too wanted the package to completely exclude questions of copyright enforcement and the promotion of creative content. French government spokesman Luc Chatel said, however, that in the end there were only three abstentions when the amendment was eliminated. He said the EU Member States had not wanted the entire legislative process to be blocked on this point.
In advance of the Council session, two MEPs – Guy Bono of the Socialists and Daniel Cohn-Bendit of the Greens – called upon the ministers in a letter to resist the "dictation" of the French Council presidency, which they accused of ignoring the current proposals of the Commission and the Parliament. They said President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to introduce a "three strikes and you're out" law under which repeated illegal downloads would mean internet users' having their web access blocked. This "graduated response" would enable their internet access to be blocked for copyright infringement without any prior court order. The two MEPs therefore asked the Council to respect their proposed amendment 138. They said deleting the article nine months before the European elections would give a very bad impression of European democracy in general and the Council in particular.
The position taken by the government representatives means that the "universal service directive" now requires internet providers to cooperate more closely with the entertainment industry. The ministers deleted the Parliament's addendum to promote "lawful content". The Council erased proposed amendment 166, by means of which Parliament wanted to guarantee that "any restrictions to users' rights to access content, services and applications, if they are necessary, shall be implemented by appropriate measures, in accordance with the principles of proportionality, effectiveness and dissuasiveness." Ultimately it is now left up to the Member States independently to embody internet prohibitions in their laws in cases of copyright infringement.
The ministers further scrapped suggestions for the setting up an EU regulatory body. The Parliament had already transformed the "super-regulator" originally proposed by the European Commission into the "Body of European Regulators in Telecommunications" (BERT), a committee holding fewer powers. If things go in accordance with the wishes of the Council, the existing regulators will now only cooperate in a joint group called "GERT" (Group of European Regulators in Telecoms). The Commission is not to have a right of veto. Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for the Information Society and Media, expressed her regrets that Europe was thus throwing away the prospects of a strong common telecoms market.
The German Government achieved a majority in favour of a proposed amendment to the French stipulation, to give more weight in future to the investment risks implied by regulatory decisions dealing with the establishment of new broadband networks. In a watered-down version of the original German proposal, incentives are to be given to investors in, for example, the extension of fibre-optic networks. With reference to the EU's dispute with the German Government over "regulatory holidays" incorporated in the German telecommunications law (TKG), aimed at easing controls over Deutsche Telekom in "new markets", Reding emphasized that there would be no such regulatory holidays.
The package also contains provisions for consumer protection as well as a revised directive on data protection in electronic communications. According to the Council's version, providers may store connection and location data if this is "unconditionally necessary" for maintaining the functioning and security of the network. The Council, Commission and Parliament now want firmly to lash down the final regulatory framework in what they call a "trilog" procedure. If this works, no second reading in Parliament will be necessary.