Telecoms: Commission launches infringement case against Romania over independence of regulator
European Commission - IP/09/165 29/01/2009
Brussels, 29 January 2009
The Romanian government's decision in 2008 first to remove the President of the national telecoms regulator and then, after a court ruling suspending this decision, to restructure and rename this authority represents, in the view of the European Commission, a serious violation of the regulator's independence. Following repeated warnings, the Commission today opened an infringement proceeding against Romania by sending a letter of formal notice under Article 226 of the EC Treaty to the Romanian government. EU Telecoms Commissioner Reding spoke yesterday morning on the phone with the recently appointed Romanian Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Mr. Gabriel Sandu, – who had inherited this issue from the previous government – to discuss how the current illegality of the legislation in Romania could be changed in conformity with the letter and the spirit of EU law.
“Independent national regulators are the backbone of the EU telecoms rules and are therefore central to fair regulation in Europe's single telecoms market," said EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding. "It is worrying to see the government of an EU Member State nullifying, in 2008, the effects of a court ruling, particularly as it is not the first time this has happened in Romania. It is against EU telecoms rules and challenges the very principle of the rule of law, upon which the EU is based. I call on the Romanian authorities to do their utmost to ensure the stability and independence of the telecoms regulator, both for legal certainty and for sound and fair regulation of the market. I offer my support and the advice of my services to the Romanian authorities, in particular to the new Minister Gabriel Sandu, to help bring its telecoms rules into line with EU law, so that it fully respects the independence of the telecoms regulator. For us, the issue is not this or that person, but that long-term, stable solutions are found to secure the independence of whoever is at the helm of the regulator.”
In September 2008, the Bucharest Court of Appeal suspended the decision taken by Romania's Prime Minister one month earlier to replace the President of Romania's telecoms regulator. Following the court's decision, the regulator's president should have been reinstalled in his position. However, the court ruling was not enforced because the Romanian government adopted emergency legislation, on the same day this ruling was made public, thereby restructuring and renaming the national regulator and appointing a new President. This deprived the court ruling of its effect.
The Commission sent two administrative letters, on 19 September and 14 October 2008, to bring the seriousness of the case to the attention of the Romanian government. However, no satisfactory response to these letters has been given. The Commission therefore has sent now a letter of formal notice to Romania, the first stage of an infringement proceeding under Article 226 of the EC Treaty.
For the Commission, it is of crucial importance to avoid another hasty restructuring of Romania's telecoms regulator and to find a more sustainable institutional solution fully reflecting the letter and the spirit of EU rules on the independence of regulators.
Already in 2006, right before Romania's accession to the EU, the Government reorganised the Regulatory Authority through emergency legislation preventing the enforcement of a court ruling imposing the reinstallation of the Regulator’s president removed by the Prime Minister in 2005.
Apart from the case against Romania, the Commission has opened earlier seven
cases against Member States regarding independence of the national telecoms
regulators. Of these, the cases against Bulgaria (IP/08/1018),
Slovenia, Cyprus (IP/06/948),
and Luxembourg (IP/09/163)
meanwhile could be closed, following action taken at national level to remedy
the problem. Poland’s case has been referred to the European Court of
Justice by the European Commission in July 2008. The cases against Latvia and
Lithuania, opened in September 2008, are ongoing (IP/08/1343).