(Adds reaction from Industry Minister)
BRUSSELS Feb 25 The European Commission could
start disciplinary proceedings against Spain to ensure its
telecoms regulator remains independent if combined with other
government agencies as part of Madrid's cost cuts, the EU
telecoms chief said on Monday.
Neelie Kroes, the EU commissioner who oversees digital
technology, said she could take legal action against Spain
unless it modified its plans for the regulator.
Burdened with high debt and a large budget deficit, Spain
is finalising a proposal and draft law to combine sector and
industry regulators with the competition commission.
But the proposal has fuelled concerns in the European
Commission that this could undermine the Spanish telecoms
Kroes said in a Feb. 11 letter to the Spanish industry
minister Jose Manuel Soria, obtained by Reuters, that changes
put forward by Madrid to allay such worries were not sufficient.
"They do not yet ensure the independence of the national
regulatory authority and the attribution of the necessary
competences for it to ensure effective and impartial regulation
of the electronic communications sector within the (EU) single
market," Kroes wrote.
"Unless the adopted and planned legislation is amended, I
can see no other way forward than to propose to the Commission
to open infringement proceedings," she said.
A spokeswoman for Soria said he had committed on Monday that
the government would amend the proposal to include suggestions
made by the EU executive arm and make sure the independence of
regulators is fully guaranteed.
The EU executive can take member states to the
Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice if they fail to
comply with the bloc's rules, a process that can result in
Kroes said she hoped to discuss the matter with Soria at a
meeting in Barcelona on Tuesday. The Commission's competition,
energy and economics units are similarly worried about the
Spanish plan, which would bundle regulators from those sectors
together with the telecoms body.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, additional reporting by Robert Hetz
and Jose Elias Rodriguez in Madrid; editing by Rex Merrifield
and Keiron Henderson)