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EU: Telecoms Council

Volume 687: debated on Monday 18 December 2006

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I represented the United Kingdom at the Telecoms Council in Brussels, on the morning of 11 December 2006. The council began with the presidency asking member states to approve the council resolution for a strategy for a secure information society in Europe. The resolution concentrates specifically on trust and security in the ubiquitous information society of tomorrow. There was a brief endorsement from the Commission after which three remaining linguistic and scrutiny reserves were lifted without discussion.

The presidency then presented its paper on the progress made in the council concerning the Commission proposal for a regulation on roaming on public mobile networks within the Community. In my intervention I welcomed this proposal, agreeing that there is definitely a need for control of wholesale and retail prices, but expressed my concern at the Commission's proposed course of action to achieve this reduction. I along with several other member states proposed the introduction of a sunrise clause on the imposition of an average (rather than maximum) retail cap. This would result in the best deal for consumers in terms of sustainable lower roaming prices, competition in the marketplace and continued innovation in the packages offered. I also referred to a co-authored UK and French paper setting out principles on how we believe the regulation should be structured (attached at Annexe A). I am pleased to report that the UK/French approach received considerable support.

The presidency concluded the discussion by emphasising the good progress that had been made on the dossier that would now pass to the German presidency for a conclusion before the summer.

Discussions then turned to the agenda items listed under any other business. The first of these was a presentation by the Finnish presidency on the i2010 conference, which it held in September. This was followed by an update on discussions that took place at the internet governance forum in October. As both of these presentations were fundamentally feedback on past events I did not intervene.

Commissioner Reding then made a brief request to member states to sign the memorandum of understanding on eCall. ECall is an automated emergency call system which is able to report traffic accidents from the vehicles involved in the crash which in turn could improve the emergency services’ response time. The Government are yet to decide whether to sign the MOU. This is a DfT lead, on which I understand the House has received one Explanatory Memorandum (EM 1238/05 COM2005431 FINAL) and will shortly receive a supplementary EM (EM15932/06 COM2006723 FINAL).

The fourth and final item under AOB was an update on the debate about “116”, on the request of the French (this was a last-minute addition to the agenda). “116” is a draft decision from the Commission requesting all member states to allocate numbers (116 XXX) for pan-European services of societal value. In my intervention I agreed with the Commission on the importance of this service and supported the French proposal that one of these numbers, when the decision is adopted, (116 000) should be reserved for a hotline for reporting missing children. I concluded my intervention by affirming the United Kingdom's commitment to do everything that we can to take this initiative forward.

On conclusion of discussions on telecoms issues, Commissioner McCreevy, the Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, presented the third postal services directive. The directive proposes the full accomplishment of the internal market for Community postal services through the removal or reduction of obstacles that hinder the functioning of the internal market. I along with several other member states supported the Commission's proposal and highlighted the benefits that we have experienced in the UK, such as choice of provider, better service quality and improved value for money, following the liberalisation of our postal market at the beginning of this year.

The Telecoms Council concluded with the presidency thanking member states for all their assistance over the past six months and wishing the Germans good luck for their forthcoming presidency.