The Telecommunications Council took place in Luxemburg on 6 June 2013. I represented the UK at this Council.
The first item was a full “tour de table” debate guided by questions from the presidency on the digital agenda for Europe—the role of the telecommunications and ICT sectors. The commissioner for the digital agenda, Vice-President Kroes, is planning to launch an initiative with the aim of achieving the goal of a further integrated European telecoms single market. It forms part of the goal to achieve a pan-European digital single market by 2015; though the telecoms single market measures may have a longer time scale before realisation.
This debate focused on two questions: garnering member states views on how to realise the ambition of a more integrated telecoms single market and views on further pan-European spectrum harmonisation. The commissioner for the digital agenda, opened the debate by urging member states to see the digital agenda as a vehicle for increasing growth and jobs, particularly for young people. She went on to say that the telecoms sector is too fragmented across member states and there are too many barriers that prevent cross-border trade in digital goods and services.
My intervention noted that the UK welcomed the idea of a further integrated single market in telecoms in principle, including the proposal for a telecoms passport which would allow telecoms providers the ability to be able to operate in any member state, along similar lines to the single European banking licence. However, I also suggested that that this proposal should not allow telecom companies the ability to base themselves in a member state with a weak regulator. I also stated that any proposals will need to strike the right balance between allowing consolidation in the telecoms market but still ensuring that there is vibrant competition.
On spectrum, I said that the UK had just carried out a successful spectrum auction and we would like to work together to develop guidelines that would produce a more joined-up approach towards spectrum management across the EU, but we would be cautious about uniform rules at European level.
The majority of member states broadly supported the principle of a single telecoms market. However, Germany, Belgium and Spain expressed scepticism on the need for any further telecoms regulation. Many member states also emphasized that one of the outcomes of these proposals should be that broadband is available to all citizens regardless of where they live in the EU. On spectrum, there was consensus among member states that there should be no changes that would reduce member states’ abilities to make their own decisions to how spectrum is allocated.
The next item was a progress report from the presidency, followed by an orientation debate on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning measures to ensure a high level of network and information security across the Union (First Reading—EM6342/13). My intervention supported the high-level principles of the strategy but expressed concern that the current proposal was too prescriptive. I also said that voluntary data-sharing arrangements were very valuable and should not be threatened by mandatory reporting requirements. Finland, France, Sweden and Germany also shared my view that the regulation was too prescriptive. However, most member states believed that legislation was necessary but only in respect of sectors that were considered “critical” national infrastructure.
The presidency then provided a progress report on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market (First Reading—EM10977/12). There was not a major debate on this item and I did not intervene.
The Council then looked at two proposals under the “banner” of digital infrastructure and services. The first item was the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on guidelines for trans-European telecommunications networks and repealing decision No. 1336/97/EC (First Reading—EM16006/11). The second item was a progress report on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on measures to reduce the costs of deploying high-speed electronic communications networks (First Reading—EM7999/13). The Council and Commission noted both these items without any comment.
There then followed a progress report on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites (First reading—EM17344/12). The Council and Commission noted this report without any comment.
Any Other Business
Finally, the Lithuanian delegation informed the Council of their priorities for their forthcoming presidency. I did not intervene on this item.