EC denied veto power over telecommunication regulators

European Union ministers Wednesday decided against giving the European Commission the power to overturn decisions made by national telecommunication regulatory authorities (NRAs).

Fears of diminished autonomy for the NRAs led the 15 member states to vote against the Commission proposal, according to a spokesman for the Dutch delegation. He said Germany led the opposition, which was then followed by all countries.

The Commission was seeking the power to suspend decisions by the national bodies in case European law was not followed. The Council of Transport and Communications ministers, in a meeting Wednesday in Luxembourg, decided to instead give the Commission a two-month period to object to rulings by the NRAs.

The ministers also voted against a Commission proposal related to the allotment of spectrum to mobile phone operators. The proposal would have created a forum for the countries to discuss issues like auctions and license terms. According to Commission spokesman Per Haugaard the different approaches for handing out 3G (third generation) licenses across the continent have “created problems and fragmented the market.”

The unanimous decisions by the Council are a disappointment to the Commission, which has now set its hopes on the European Parliament to amend the proposals. Businesses sided with the Commission, as they strive for a more coherent European regulatory framework.

“We regret that the Council took this position. Europe needs a mechanism which strikes a balance between the flexibility of the NRA and a more harmonized application of European telecommunications law,” said Haugaard.

An agreement was reached on a Commission recommendation regarding competition rules in the telecommunications sector. The threshold for the status of significant market power, which leads to stringent rules being imposed on the operator, will move from 25 per cent market share to the general concept of “a dominant position,” Haugaard said.

The Commission proposals will now go back to the parliament for a second reading, after which the Council will discuss them again in June. The parliament supported all of the original Commission proposals in its first reading.

The European Commission, in Brussels, can be reached at http://europa.eu.int/.