Friday, 18 December 2009

EU Telecoms package: Recent developments

The EU telecoms reform package comprises five different EU Directives (Framework Directive, Access Directive, Authorisation Directive, Universal Service Directive and the e-Privacy Directive) and a new Regulation setting up the European Body of Telecoms Regulators BEREC. It has been accompanied by a Directive to reform the GSM Directive of 1987 to free airwaves for 3G and other mobile services.

Three of these important Directives have recently been adopted, modernising the European Union’s telecommunications rules.

Before we look at the Directives, here are a few notes on how the European Union makes laws.

Ordinary legislative procedure

In principle, the Lisbon Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009. Article 289(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) (OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/172) defines the ordinary legislative procedure, referring to more detailed provisions in Article 294 TFEU:

Article 289(1) TFEU

1. The ordinary legislative procedure shall consist in the joint adoption by the European Parliament and the Council of a regulation, directive or decision on a proposal from the Commission. This procedure is defined in Article 294.

Historically, the “Community method” has been the shorthand expression for a triangle, where the Commission proposes and the Council and the European Parliament adopt the laws.

Here is how the Europa Glossary describes the Community method, with a bit more detail:

The Community method is the expression used for the institutional operating mode set up in the first pillar of the European Union. It proceeds from an integration logic with due respect for the subsidiarity principle, and has the following salient features:
 Commission monopoly of the right of initiative;
 widespread use of qualified majority voting in the Council;
 an active role for the European Parliament;
 uniform interpretation of Community law by the Court of Justice.

In my view, the term “Community method” should be heading for the scrap-heap of history, replaced by “the ordinary legislative procedure”, when we have to be exact. In daily use “EU legislation”, “EU lawmaking” and other shorter expressions can be used, because the ordinary legislative procedure is the default mode.

Clarifications are needed mainly when the “special legislative procedure” is used (with a smaller role for the European Parliament) for lawmaking, or when we discuss intergovernmental decision making, as in the areas of foreign, security and defence policy.

Partly this methodological detour was caused by reflections on the future use of EU terms, partly by the fact that we are still seeing the tail end of new legislation approved under the Treaty of Nice, with the European Community still in existence.

Telecoms package

The latest EU telecoms reform package was formally approved before the Lisbon Treaty entered into force. But the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament all had their roles to play. Let us therefore take a brief look from each of the angles of the triangle.

European Parliament’s press release: Green light for new EU telecoms rules (24 November 2009).

The European Parliament’s background note: Telecoms package: strengthening consumer rights and competition (12 November 2009).

European Commission welcomes European Parliament approval of sweeping reforms to strengthen competition and consumer rights on Europe’s telecoms markets (Brussels, 24 November 2009 IP/09/1812).

The European Commission’s presentation of the essential telecoms reforms:

EU Telecoms Reform: 12 reforms to pave way for stronger consumer rights, an open internet, a single European telecoms market and high-speed internet connections for all citizens (Brussels, 20 November 2009 MEMO/09/513).

When Sweden’s Minister for Communications and President of the Council Åsa Torstensson and President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzak signed the Telecoms Package, the Swedish presidency of the Council of the European Union issued a press release: Telecoms Package signed and delivered (25 November 2009).

Ralf Grahn

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