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Telecommunications Council

Volume 546: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2012

The Telecommunications Council was held in Luxembourg on 8 June under the Danish presidency. The Deputy UK Permanent Representative, Andy Lebrecht, represented the UK at this Council.

There were two substantive items on the agenda, which were both orientation debates. (An exchange of views steered by questions from the presidency) The first item covered the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2003/98/EC on reuse of public sector information. (First Reading). This draft proposal would extend obligations, so that cultural institutions (libraries, museums) would have to make data publicly available, clarify what material should be made available (to address unjustified withholding) and limit charges for most reuse to marginal cost. The presidency sought views on how the benefits of the proposal could be realised while addressing concerns over marginal cost charging.

Many member states including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Romania were broadly positive towards the proposal, but several including Germany, Slovakia and Ireland also expressed concerns about the cost of making data available at a time when public budgets were under pressure. The UK supported the proposal and highlighted the economic benefits of making public sector information (PSI) available, while registering the need to take account of the implications for public bodies with different funding models, especially those that derive income from the sale and licensing of data.

The Commission responded to the concerns of member states by pointing out that that most of the information in question had already been paid for by the taxpayer; and that this was an opportunity to develop a market whose value could rise from the current €32 billion to four times that amount.

The second item was a debate on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on guidelines for trans-European telecommunications (TENs) networks and repealing Decision No 1336/97/EC. (First Reading).

This draft proposal will set objectives and priorities for broadband and digital service infrastructure projects, which will be funded through the “Connecting Europe Facility” (a regulation creating the legal basis for funding of TENs projects in transport, energy and telecoms over the next seven-year multi-annual financial framework period). The presidency invited comments on criteria for selecting broadband projects and on the proposed cross-border “digital service infrastructure” projects.

The Commission introduced the discussion by noting that the proposal was designed to help leverage private funding for growth-enhancing investments. Many member states including Belgium, Poland, Estonia and France were in broad agreement on this proposal. Many delegations also noted the need for flexibility within the criteria for projects of common interest and in respect of the list of digital service infrastructure projects. Several delegations wanted to prioritise funding for areas with low broadband penetration rates, especially areas with low population density. However, others preferred more neutral criteria.

The UK’s intervention noted the importance of budget constraint, but subject to that, we supported the aims of access to superfast broadband for all. We also suggested that there should be flexibility to allow funding of wireless broadband projects, and both rural and urban projects should be eligible. We also questioned the need to prioritise EU funding for the European heritage project (Europeana), critical information infrastructure projects and proposals relating to smart energy meters.

Any Other Business

There were only three items under AOB. We did not intervene on any of these. The first item was an update from the presidency on proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 717/2007 on roaming on public mobile networks within the community.

The next item on the agenda was a presentation by the Commission on a communication entitled “Trust and Confidence” in electronic transactions in the internal market, which was published on 4 June. This communication includes proposals on electronic ID, as well as amend existing rules towards eSignatures.

Finally, the Cypriot delegation informed the Council of the priorities for their forthcoming presidency. These include trying to reach political agreement on the PSI proposal, a partial general approach on eTENs and to begin discussions on the communication on “Trust and Confidence” in electronic transactions in the internal market.