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Brussels, 8 December 2004

Telecom Council, Brussels, 9 December 2004

(Martin Selmayr)

The EU Telecommunications Council will meet on December 9, 2004 in Brussels. Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media, will represent the European Commission.

Safer Internet Plus

The European Parliament and the Council have agreed to a new multi-annual programme, proposed by the European Commission, to promote safer use of the Internet and new online technologies. The 4-year programme, Safer Internet plus (2005–08), proposed by the Commission in March, will have a budget of €45 million to combat illegal and harmful internet content. In addition to the Internet, the new programme also covers other media, such as videos, and explicitly addresses the fight against racism, and also“spam”. It will bring in the new Member States and focus more closely on end users: parents, educators and children. It aims to mobilise talent in the public, private and voluntary sectors to prepare hard-hitting safety campaigns.

The four action lines of Safer Internet Plus are: fighting illegal content; tackling unwanted and harmful content; promoting a safer environment, and awareness-raising.

Safer Internet plus is a follow-up to the existing Safer Internet programme, running from 1999 to 2004.

At this Council: The Council will give political agreement to the Commission proposal.

Unsolicited communications (“spam”)

Over 60% of email received by consumers and firms alike is spam. This scourge risks undermining user confidence in e-mail and other electronic communications services.

In the European Union, the ePrivacy Directive of 12 July 2002 has established an “opt in” regime which bans unsolicited communications. In addition, the Commission adopted, in January 2004, a Communication to combat spam (COM (2004)28). In March 2004, the Council adopted conclusions based on this Communication. The documents identified effective legislation, strong cooperation among enforcement agencies, technical solutions, and greater consumer empowerment as all vital to combat spam.

Enforcement agencies are increasingly cooperating across borders. For example, in one case the French data protection authority acted together with the Belgian authority to stop a spam operation. In another, cross-border co-operation allowed successful prosecution of a premium rate services dialling scam, into which consumers were lured using spam techniques. The contact network of spam enforcement agencies set up at the initiative of the Commission is close to agreeing a common procedure for handling cross-border complaints on spam.

In October 2004, the EU’s Dutch Presidency, in cooperation with the Commission, sent Member States and stakeholders a questionnaire aimed at assessing progress in the EU on combating “spam”. A workshop in Brussels on 15 November examined the results of this consultation, and highlighted both the need to adapt measures to address the changing nature of spam, and to examine the transposition issue, inter alia in the light of the 10th Implementation Report on the EU framework for electronic communications.

At this Council: The new set of conclusions to be adopted at this Council take into account actions taken by the Commission and Member States since January, which included establishing a contact network of bodies that enforce anti-spam measures, and points out two new important elements:

  • the changing nature of spam – no longer just unsolicited commercial communications, but increasingly typified by viruses and other malicious code aimed at taking control of networks and single PCs, often for illegal activities; the origin of spam is becoming more difficult to trace;
  • the need to look into national laws on privacy and electronic communications, to see whether differences are causing obstacles to effective cross-border enforcement of anti-spam legislation within the EU.

Looking into the future of ICT

One of the priorities of Commissioner Reding for the next year will be to devise a follow-on to the eEurope 2005 initiative. Preparations are already underway.

On 19 November 2004 the Commission adopted a Communication on “Challenges for the European Information Society Beyond 2005”. This document makes clear the contributions which information and communication technologies (ICT) make to the Lisbon goals. It underlines the continued need for specific ICT policies and initiatives and gives a preliminary indication of the key challenges we face in this area.

The communication argues the case for wider use of ICT, in particular for bringing ICT closer to citizens’ needs and expectations. The key economic challenge is to tap the potential for competitiveness gains and growth that ICT can bring to the EU. Spreading the benefits of ICT widely also requires sustained and higher investment in research and development.

Other challenges including making explicit the very beneficial effects of ICT and – more generally – of the Information Society, and addressing fears of new technologies and concerns about a widening of the “digital divide” between those who have access to ICT and the knowledge to use them effectively and those who do not.

The issues identified as relevant for the development of a coherent and forward-looking European Information Society policy beyond 2005 are e-Inclusion and citizenship, content and services, public services, skills and work, ICT as a key industrial sector, interoperability, trust and dependability and ICT for business processes.

The Commission will consult Member States, the European Parliament and a wide range of stakeholders before presenting a detailed proposal for the new strategy beyond 2005. The new initiative for ICT policy should be laid out in a second communication during spring 2005 under the Luxembourg presidency and should be endorsed under the EU’s UK Presidency in the second half of the year.

At this Council: An exchange of views on the future of ICT in Europe will take place and a Council resolution on the priorities for the future ICT agenda will be adopted.

World Summit on Information Society (WSIS)

The first session of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), held in Geneva from 10 to12 December 2003, culminated in the Declaration of Principles for a global Information Society and the Plan of Action, which should be seen as a common reference for the different players in the global Information Society.

The second session will take place in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005. It aims to transform the Geneva principles into tangible results, based on the Plan of Action. In addition, it will address the two outstanding issues: Internet Governance and financing mechanisms to bridge the digital divide.

The EU made a significant contribution to the preparatory process and to the first session of the WSIS and will continue its commitment to multilateralism as a defining principle of its external policy. The European Commission’s views on the second phase of the WSIS as a basis for a common approach to the preparatory process are set out in a Commission Communication. The EU has always advocated focusing on a limited number of priorities for tangible results to be achieved. In its Communication, the Commission proposes therefore to organise the implementation of the Action Plan along three main axes:

  • create an enabling environment based on eStrategies at all appropriate levels and on pro-competitive legal and regulatory frameworks that encourage investment and innovation;
  • concentrate on showing applications that work in the areas of eGovernment, eLearning, eHealth and eBusiness;
  • pay special attention to the research dimension of the Information Society.

In addition, specific actions for Least Developed Countries to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals will have to be developed. The Commission has recently approved an “ACP ICT Programme” as a first step towards implementing the “Joint Position on Information Society for Development” signed between the EU and the ACP countries at the Geneva Summit.

The European Commission is committed to making a success of the second phase of the WSIS – success which will inevitably be judged, in part, on progress achieved on issues such as freedom of speech and access to the information society for all, based on respect for human rights. But it will also be judged on the progress made in implementing concrete actions based on the Geneva Action Plan.

At this Council: There will be an exchange of views on the priority areas for the EU during the second phase of WSIS in implementing the Geneva Plan of Action, and on the broad issues regarding Internet governance, of particular relevance for public policies. The Council will adopt conclusions on the Commission Communication on the WSIS, broadly endorsing the orientations and the tasks identified by the Commission, thereby giving a message to WSIS preparatory process participants on the EU’s commitment and priorities for the second phase of the WSIS.

As regards the follow-up to the WSIS, the Council will underline the importance of continuing the EU’s leading role in the post-Tunis period, and Member States will be called upon to ensure, as far as possible, co-ordinated EU positions by working closely together in all relevant forums, including in the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) and the Task Force on Financial Mechanisms (TFFM) set up by the UN Secretary General to deal with outstanding issues in the WSIS process.

Member States and the Commission will be invited to ensure that the principles of the Declaration and the Plan of Action are fully respected and not re-opened. As regards priorities, they are invited to follow the guidelines indicated in the Commission Communication, notably to concentrate on the implementation of the Geneva undertakings, focusing on a limited number of priorities in order to achieve tangible results and to be able to translate principles into actions.

On Internet Governance, the Council referred to previously adopted Guidelines and further coordination in the respective Council Working Party taking into account, as appropriate, discussions in the High Level Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) chaired by the Commission. The work in WGIG should focus on the continuity and the proper functioning of the Internet, addressing the following issues:

  • organisation and administration of naming and numbering including the operation of the root server system;
  • internationalisation of Internet Governance, taking into account public interest concerns and the participation of developing countries in these governance structures;
  • stability, dependability and robustness of the Internet, including spam.

The Commission will be called upon to prepare the WSIS stocktaking exercise in close collaboration with Member States; to propose initiatives for implementing the Plan of Action making use of existing policy instruments and mechanisms and to report to the Council on the progress of the preparatory process of the second phase of WSIS.

10th Report on Electronic Communications Regulation and Markets

The 10th Implementation Report reviews progress in the implementation, in the EU Member States, of the new regulatory framework for e-communications services. It also provides an assessment of the major developments in the market during the year. The 2004 report covers 25 Member States for the first time and is the first full year review of the new regulatory framework, which came into force on 24 July 2003 for the EU 15 Member States and on 1 May 2004 for the new Member States.

At this Council: The Council will receive a report that there has been good progress in most Member States in implementing the new regulatory framework, but that five Member States have not yet completed transposition of the framework into national laws. The Commission will inform the Council that infringement proceedings have been launched against Member States, and proceedings are pending before the European Court of Justice against three countries. Secondary (implementing) legislation has still to be adopted in eight Member States, and the conformity of the national legislation so far notified is currently under examination.

The outlook for the market is increasingly positive and competition is intensifying in most areas, bringing increased benefits in terms of price, quality and innovative services for consumers.

The Commission is continuing to monitor progress and will focus on the practical and effective application of the new regulatory framework in all Member States, and also on remaining competition problems regarding roaming costs.

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