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IP/09/1040

Brussels, 25 June, 2009

Telecoms: Commission urges Lithuania to separate regulatory and ownership functions in telecoms

The European Commission today said Lithuania is failing to put in place EU rules that guarantee the independence of national telecoms regulators. It stepped up legal action by deciding to send a reasoned opinion (the second phase of an infringement proceeding). The Commission wants a distinct separation between those making the rules and owners or providers of telecoms services. The Commission started legal action by sending a letter of formal notice in September 2008 ( IP/08/1343 ). However, the Lithuanian authorities did not address the Commission's concerns in their response. For this reason the Commission is now launching the second phase of the infringement proceeding.

“Ensuring that government departments with regulatory tasks are not at the same time involved in the ownership and control of state-owned telecoms companies is an essential principle to guarantee independence and impartiality of national telecoms regulators, and thus of ensuring fair regulation in the interests of consumers and of effective competition," said EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding. “This principle of separation must be respected in all cases where national ministries carry out telecoms regulatory tasks. I therefore call on the Lithuanian authorities to apply this basic requirement of EU telecoms law to Lithuania's Ministry of Communications.”

Lithuania's Ministry of Communications prepares the Government's (Cabinet of Ministers) decisions on the allocation of radio frequencies and the rules regulating universal service in Lithuania. At the same time, the Ministry of Communications is the designated State institution that oversees ownership and control of the public stock company "Lithuanian Radio and Television Centre" which is a state-owned communications and network provider.

EU telecoms rules require Member States that retain ownership or control of the companies which provide telecoms networks and/or services, to ensure effective structural separation of the regulatory function from activities associated with ownership or control. The Court of Justice in its Judgment of 6 March 2008 in Case C-82/07 concerning Spain stated that, where regulatory functions are carried out even partially by ministries, Member States must ensure that these authorities are neither directly nor indirectly involved in activities associated with ownership or control in companies providing telecoms services.

Background

This infringement proceeding is part of the Commission’s ongoing efforts to ensure that national regulators act impartially and independently. The Commission has launched four cases concerning the independence of national telecoms regulators against Lithuania ( IP/08/1343 ), Latvia ( IP/09/569 ), Romania ( IP/09/165 ) and Slovakia ( IP/09/775 ). These cases are currently pending.

A detailed overview of telecoms infringement proceedings is available at:

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/policy/ecomm/implementation_enforcement/infringement/


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