Brussels, 30 March 2009
Main items on the agenda of this Telecoms Council:
Towards an accessible information society
15% of Europeans suffer from some form of disability, and many face barriers such as reading a website or even being able to use common devices and services like telephones. Despite repeated calls by the EU and government leaders to improve this situation, progress remains limited: for instance, by far the majority of websites fail to use universally accepted user-friendly solutions.
On December 1, 2008 the European Commission adopted the Communication on how to achieve an accessible information society, suggesting improvements for both web accessibility and e-accessibility for people with disabilities and for elderly persons. These include action at European level, such as standardisation and financial support for research and deployment of technology solutions. The Commission also called for reinforced cooperation with Member States and other stakeholders, such as user organisations and industry, towards a common European approach for e-accessibility.
What is expected at this Council? The Council will adopt its conclusions on accessible Information Society, endorsing the Commission's Communication. The Commission will also present progress since the Ministerial Declaration on an inclusive Information Society adopted at a Conference in Riga in 2006. In this Declaration, representatives of more than 30 European countries committed to several targets, including halving the gap in internet usage between groups at risk of exclusion and average EU use by 2010.
Background: The Communication is supported by two independent surveys on the situation of e-accessibility in Europe, as well as a public consultation launched by the European Commission in July 2008 on further measures to make websites in Europe accessible (IP/08/1074).
How ICT can boost the EU's economy out of the downturn
Investment in information and communication technologies (ICT) and competitive broadband is crucial for restarting the EU economy. High speed internet can generate jobs and growth, not only directly through the construction of networks, but also indirectly through jobs in new internet-based services. In November, the Commission proposed a major stimulus by channelling €1 billion of EU funds into ensuring that the 30% of rural population currently not covered today will be able to go online. In addition, the Commission is preparing a new European strategy for high speed broadband to be adopted in May 2009, which should further stimulate competition and investment in high speed internet.
What is expected at this Council? Ministers will have an exchange of views on how ICT and broadband will promote growth to emerge from the economic crisis and on the steps they are taking to encourage the take-up of broadband.
Background: The European economic recovery plan of November 2008 proposed a European broadband strategy of € 1 billion of community funds for broadband investments for rural areas, and to achieve 100% broadband coverage by 2010 (see MEMO/09/35). The plan was endorsed by the European Council in December 2008. The recent European Summit of 19-20 March 2009, approved €1.02 billion of investment from the EU budget for broadband and other innovative rural development assistance, of which €600 million can be allocated in 2009.
On 11 February, 2009, the Commission, along with the European Parliament and the Council, declared February 11 "European 112 Day" to spread the word about the single European emergency number and further increase awareness of 112 (IP/09/240). European citizens can now call 112 from their mobile or fixed phones free of charge anywhere in the EU (IP/08/1968). Only one in four Europeans is currently aware that 112 is a European-wide number, which can also be dialled in other Member States.
What is expected at this Council? The Presidency will provide information regarding "European 112 Day", which was celebrated for the first time this year and will ask the Commission to report on the accessibility of 112.
Background: In 1991 the Council decided to introduce the European emergency number 112 to provide a single emergency call number in all EU Member States and make emergency services more accessible, especially for people travelling to other EU countries. EU rules on 112 would be further strengthened by the EU Telecoms Reform currently being negotiated in its final phase (IP/07/1677). The Commission has launched 17 infringement proceedings against 15 countries due to a lack of availability of 112, caller location or appropriate call handling; most of those cases have been closed following corrective measures. The Commission is also working with the Member States to promote 112 best practice through different expert bodies. In June 2008, the Commission also launched a 112 website to further promote 112 and inform citizens about how 112 works in all EU Member States.
ICT for Energy Efficiency
Information and communications technologies (ICT) are expected to reduce total carbon emissions in Europe by up to 15% by 2020. To meet its commitments to combat climate change and drive economic recovery, in March 2009 the Commission called on Member States and industry to use ICT throughout the economy to improve energy efficiency (IP/09/393). It singled out priority areas where ICT could have a big impact like the buildings (where ICT could cut energy consumption by up to 17%) and transport logistics (where it could cut carbon emissions by up to 27%).
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present its Communication regarding the urgency of improving energy efficiency.
Background: The Communication follows a Commission announcement last year that it would promote the role of ICT in meeting these goals by improving energy efficiency throughout the economy (IP/08/733). In January 2007, the Commission adopted an energy and climate change package, endorsed by the European Parliament and by EU leaders at the March 2007 European Council, targeting a 20% increase in the use of renewable energy and a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2020 (IP/07/29). In December, the EU reiterated its commitment to meeting these targets and stressed the urgency of improving energy efficiency (IP/08/1998).
This morning, EU Commissioner Viviane Reding called, in a video message, on the ICT industry to lead the way for the rest of the economy by reducing its own carbon footprint by 20 per cent as early as 2015 (see MEMO/09/140).
Network and Information Security policy development in Europe
ICT systems, services, networks and infrastructures form a vital part of European economy and society, either by providing essential goods and services or by constituting the underpinning platform of other critical infrastructures. They are often called Critical Information Infrastructures as their disruption or destruction would have a serious impact on vital societal functions. The Commission has just adopted a policy initiative on Critical Information Infrastructure Protection (CIIP) with the aim to improve the preparedness to fight cyber attacks and cyber disruptions across the EU (IP/09/494). The work planned under the CIIP initiative will constitute an important input to the more general debate, launched at the request of the Council and the European Parliament, towards an increased and modernised European policy for network and information security.
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present its Communication on CIIP, which will feed into the upcoming Ministerial Conference on CIIP (27-28 April 2009), and how it relates to the debate on the future of NIS policy in Europe.
Background: The CIIP Communication develops the European policy to strengthen the security of and the trust in the information society. In particular, a strategy for a secure information society was adopted in 2006 (IP/06/701), whose main elements were endorsed by the Council in March 2007 (2007/C 68/01). The activities planned in the CIIP Communication are also conducted in the framework of the European Program for Critical Infrastructure Protection (EPCIP), a key element of which is the Directive on the identification and designation of European Critical Infrastructures, which identifies the ICT sector as a future priority sector.
Telecoms reform package – state of play
The Council will also be briefed by the Presidency on the state of play on the telecoms reform package currently under final discussion between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission.
What is expected at this Council? The Council will have to decide whether a political agreement between the three EU institutions on this reform – which is of crucial importance for the single market in telecoms and the competitiveness of Europe's telecoms and ICT sector – is still possible before the European Parliament elections in June. The prospects for this appear to be rather positive, pending a final round of talks between representatives of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission today and on Thursday.