I am pleased to be able to report back on the topics discussed and the views put forward at this Council under the auspices of the Spanish presidency, which took place during the morning (and lunch) on Monday 31 May in Brussels. I represented the United Kingdom.
The main (and sole discussion) point on the agenda was the Commission communication on the European digital agenda and Council conclusions on that, along with the presidency paper on a European code of rights. The presidency insisted on a single table round of discussion on all three of these topics. This was initiated by Commissioner Kroes who spoke about the importance of the EU digital agenda to the economic performance of the European Union both in terms of GDP growth and productivity. She recognised that the agenda was ambitious (a multitude of proposals and initiatives) but noted that the EU needed to be bold if we were to match the US and other countries in our leverage of ICT for economic benefit. She was particularly critical on broadband deployment and use across the community and urged member states to set more ambitious targets.
There was then a table round where nearly all member states spoke. There was overwhelming endorsement for the European digital agenda with many Ministers concentrating on the importance of the digital single market (for example, with respect to copyright) but also on broadband deployment and usage. There were, though, differing views on the importance of the code of rights. While the majority of us could see benefit in the codification of existing rights in such an instrument, there was considerable opposition to an extension of rights in such a code (something the Commission were contemplating). No one spoke in opposition to the Council conclusions themselves, which were formally adopted.
In my intervention, I thanked Commissioner Kroes for the ambitious scope of the European digital agenda, agreed with her on the importance of leveraging the economic importance of ICT (especially in the current economic circumstances) and agreed on the need for us all to work together in promoting the deployment and use of broadband on a competitive basis. I also noted the importance to the UK of issues such as digital piracy and updating copyright legislation, where the Commission should set out a clear roadmap. On the code of rights I noted the utility for both business and consumers in having a single point where existing rights were brought together but said the UK were not currently minded in adding new rights to such a code.
The next item, though not formally on the Council agenda, was a discussion over lunch and then a formal meeting between member states on the seat of the BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) secretariat. BEREC was established under the telecoms package agreed in autumn 2009. The meeting formally endorsed the Latvian offer (the only one on the table) to host the secretariat in Riga.
Finally, the presidency introduced a number of items under “Any Other Business”. Commissioner Kroes gave an update on the results of the consultation the Commission had initiated on universal service, which they will summarise in a Communication after the autumn. She indicated there were divergent roles on the wisdom of introducing an obligation on the supply of broadband (though it was clear majority of respondents were not in favour). The Commission was also asked to present their “Progress Report on the Single European Electronic Communications Market 2009” and the “Europe’s Digital Competitiveness Report”. Commissioner Kroes emphasised how the former, while noting the progress being made on broadband deployment in all member states, noted divergence of regulatory approaches (which she did not welcome) and the clear need for a rigorous and correct implementation of the telecoms package. On the latter, she welcomed the clear evidence base of the impact of ICT to the wider economy and noted how here proposals under the EDA included an annual benchmarking exercise of member states. The presidency also briefly informed Ministers of the outcome of the ministerial meeting EU-Latin America and Caribbean Countries: “Digital Content for a Digital Society” in March 2010.
Just before the meeting concluded, Belgium, as the incoming presidency, confirmed their programme for the next six months, which will include discussion on a decision on a new spectrum programme, an agreement on the future mandate for ENISA (the European Information Security Agency), Council conclusions on the EU broadband strategy and on the roaming report and a discussion on e-Government.