The Telecommunications Council took place in Brussels on 5 December 2013; the Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, Shan Morgan, represented the UK.
The first two items were progress reports from the presidency 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), followed by 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). There were no major interventions on either of these items.
This was followed by the only substantive item, which was an “orientation debate” guided by a paper and two questions from the presidency. The first question related to the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down measures concerning the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a connected continent. (First Reading - EM13562/13 and 13555/13 + ADDs 1-2). It asked member states to indicate which of the actions contained in the proposal they regard as priorities; and whether it was appropriate to carry out such actions at EU or member state level. Commissioner Kroes opened the debate by noting the difference in pace between the Council and Parliament in discussing this file and expressed concern that there had been little progress in Council since the October European Council, compared to that of the European Parliament.
There then followed an extensive debate in which all member states intervened. All began their interventions by welcoming the overall objectives of the package in terms of completing the telecoms single market and the associated growth opportunities. However, France, Portugal, Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden, called for the prioritisation of other, more advanced, legislative proposals over the connected continent package, in particular the proposals on electronic identification, broadband cost-reduction and network and information security. France, along with others, also forcefully questioned the speed with which this proposal was drawn together and called for the Commission to re-examine the rationale and evidence behind several parts of the package.
There were mixed responses to the individual components of the package. Many member states, including the UK, France, Germany, Poland and Italy, did not want to see Commission gaining any further competency over spectrum management, especially national auctions, although there was recognition, that there were some gains to be made from closer co-ordination between member states. On the roaming proposal, many member states supported the reduction of EU roaming charges, but noted that the current proposal was too complex, unlikely to achieve its desired effect and may have a negative impact on competition. Opinion was mixed regarding the net neutrality proposal. Spain and Hungary supported the draft proposal, while UK and Latvia did not. Similarly, member states views on the consumer protection elements of the package were also mixed. They were supported by Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Luxembourg and UK, while Germany Austria and Ireland were concerned that the current draft would erode their currently high-level of domestic consumer protection. France added that the proposals did not add any value to their domestic regime and were opposed on this basis, while Malta and Luxembourg were concerned about the effects of them on smaller electronic communications operators.
The second question considered the conclusions of the October European Council that covered several aspects of the digital economy—for example, cloud computing, big data and digital platforms—that are currently either unregulated or rely on “soft” regulation. The presidency asked if any regulatory framework was required and whether regulation should be at member state or EU-level. The major focus of this discussion was on big data and cloud computing. All member states began by recognising the importance of these two areas and the need to make progress. However, responses about how to achieve this were mixed, with some calling for further regulation and others pressing for a light-touch approach. Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Slovakia supported further work in this area, including the development of specific European frameworks. However, Sweden and the UK called for a light-touch approach and did not support further regulation on cloud and big data. However, it was recognised that the use of standards could help form any common framework.
During summing-up, Commissioner Kroes stated she saw the debate as a turning point. She suggested that Council supported an extensive examination of the connected continent proposal under the Greek presidency, and that there was high-level consensus on the need for action on spectrum, net neutrality and consumer protection, while acknowledging that roaming may be more difficult to reach agreement on. However, she also called for further progress under the current Lithuanian presidency.
The presidency largely agreed with the Commission’s assessment, although felt that the views of member states on parts of the package were more strongly held and differed from those that the Commission suggested. They would therefore hand this file over to the Greeks to begin detailed work on the file. However, in a procedurally unusual move, Commissioner Kroes challenged the presidency’s conclusions, as she believed that member states’ were calling for work to begin under the Lithuanian presidency. The presidency disagreed with this view, which was supported by an intervention from France.
There then followed two items under AOB. There were no major interventions on either of these items. The first was an update from the presidency on 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 an update from the presidency on the proposal for a regulation from the European Parliament and of the Council on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market. (First Reading - EM10977/12).
Finally, the Greek delegation informed the Council of their priorities for their forthcoming presidency before Council adjourned until the next meeting in June 2014.