Mr Erkki Liikanen
Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society
Remarks in the European Parliament on the Telecom Package
Remarks in the European Parliament on the Telecom Package
Strasbourg, 10 December 2001
The four directives with you today, together with the Spectrum Decision, make up the new regulatory framework for electronic communications - a cornerstone of the eEurope strategy agreed at the Lisbon European Council, with the goal of making Europe 'the most successful knowledge-based economy in the world'.
Since Lisbon, successive European Councils have called on the Commission, Council and Parliament to ensure the new framework is in place by the end of this year.
Well, with two weeks to go, we're cutting it fine … but the EU still has the chance to meet this deadline. The package of compromise amendments before you today has a broad level of support in Council.
They are of course a compromise. Parliament doesn't get everything it wants here. Nor does Council. (Nor does the Commission for that matter). But the Commission nonetheless believes that it is a balanced compromise. And my assessment is that neither institution is likely to get more from conciliation.
Agreement on this package will send an important, positive signal externally. We all know that the communications sector has had a rough ride over the last year or so. Early agreement on this package will be a welcome boost.
Impact of the package on the sector
The package will have a positive impact on the sector in a number of different ways.
The new framework will deregulate, requiring regulators progressively to remove regulation as it becomes unnecessary, so that they regulate only when there is market failure.
In this way, the package provides a transition to the final objective we all share; reliance exclusively on competition law to control market power in the electronic communications sector.
The new framework simplifies and deregulates national licensing regimes, removing prior regulatory control over market access for network and service provision, and focusing such controls only on frequency and numbering resources.
It preserves and strengthens universal service, striking the right balance between the rights of users and the need not to impose disproportionate burdens on operators. In particular, it clarifies that functional Internet access is a key part of the bundle of services that must be affordable and available to all EU citizens.
Finally and crucially the new framework, with the amendments contained in the compromise package, would include the necessary safeguards to ensure that regulators act consistently across the EU, so that companies can expect to be treated similarly in similar situations throughout the EU.
Content of the compromise package
I will explain how the compromise package deals with the three fundamental issues that dominated discussion between Council and Parliament during second reading: right of appeal (Article 4 of the Framework directive), the transparency mechanism (Article 6 of the Framework directive), including matters related to radio spectrum, and finally interoperability of digital TV equipment.
Right of appeal
On right of appeal, the compromise package takes the Parliament's line by requiring Member States "to ensure that the merits of the case are duly taken into account".
On the transparency mechanism, the compromise package goes a long way to the Parliament and the Commission's position. The text gives the Commission 'hard' powers to require NRAs to withdraw draft measures in the key areas linked to the functioning of the single market: definition of markets and designation, or otherwise, of undertakings with significant market power (SMP). Commission Decisions are subject to an advisory committee procedure.
Radio spectrum is covered by Article 6, paragraph 2, whereby regulators are required to cooperate with each other to ensure consistent application of the regulatory framework. The compromise does not provide for hard powers of intervention by the Commission on spectrum matters. Nevertheless, the Commission believes that this provision will, together with the Spectrum decision, improve co-ordination of radio spectrum matters across the EU.
With regard to the Spectrum Decision, the Commission is very satisfied with the compromise proposal, as the major objectives pursued in the original Commission proposal are met.
The adoption of the Spectrum Decision in this form would constitute a major step forward. Furthermore, it demonstrates how far positions in this important matter have evolved, given the failure not so long ago of legislative proposals along similar lines.
The Spectrum Decision in its present form will set up a general and permanent framework for addressing radio spectrum policy and legal issues in the context of all relevant Community policy areas. It thereby reflects the increasing importance of radio spectrum in the context Community policy objectives which depend on the availability and efficient management of frequencies as a vital resource for provision of economically and socially important wireless usage in electronic communications, transport, broadcasting or R&D. The Spectrum Decision allows to take appropriate action to ensure efficient use of spectrum and spectrum management.
It also provides for technical implementing measures to be adopted under the Spectrum Decision as a mechanism to ensure legal certainty.
Overall therefore, the Commission considers that the compromise package on radio spectrum is satisfactory.
Digital TV interoperability
On digital TV interoperability, the compromise package also goes towards the Parliament's position, by taking over much of the EP text. A new Article and corresponding recital would be inserted in the Framework directive, dealing specifically with interoperability of digital interactive television services.
It would impose an obligation on Member States to encourage the use of open application program interfaces (APIs) by platform operators and equipment manufacturers. In addition, Member States would also be required to encourage API owners to make available, on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, all such information as is necessary to enable service providers to provide all services supported by the API.
Clearly an obligation to 'encourage' does not go as far as an obligation to 'ensure'. But the provisions of Article 16 on standardisation already allow standards to be mandated if interoperability cannot be ensured by the use of voluntary standards. The combination of these two provisions constitutes a step forward for the interoperability of digital TV, which we all agree is a desirable outcome for European consumers.
The compromise package is just that: a package. As I said before, neither institution gets everything it wants. But no compromise was ever agreed that did. The Commission believes the compromise package represents a good balance between the views of Council and Parliament. As such the Commission would recommend that you accept it.