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EU president sees progress over telecom stalemate
February 17, 2009 / 5:15 PM / 9 years ago

EU president sees progress over telecom stalemate

PRAGUE, Feb 17 (Reuters) - European Union governments have agreed to end a stalemate over making the bloc’s telecoms industry more competitive and cheaper for consumers, the EU’s Czech presidency said on Tuesday.

EU states and the European Parliament have joint say on the reform authored by the bloc’s telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding in 2007, but talks between the two sides have become bogged down over several issues.

Reding wants a European Commission veto over regulatory steps taken by a national telecoms authority that it deems insufficient to boost competition -- a move EU states dismissed out of hand and parliament diluted.

Operators like France Telecom FTE.PA, Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) and Telefonica (TEF.MC) worry a big delay in adopting the reform creates uncertainty over the 300 billion euros of investments needed to upgrade networks.

The Czech Republic’s industry and trade minister, Martin Riman, said EU telecoms ministers agreed at a meeting on Tuesday a “certain flexibility” was needed.

“We proposed a package of changes and from the discussion that followed it is obvious that this compromise is acceptable for the council,” Riman told a news conference after the meeting.

“That is the progress from our point of view, that we can go into negotiations with the Commission and mainly the parliament empowered by the confidence that we got ... from the member states,” Riman said.

Reding said the presidency compromise to be presented to parliament next week is a possible way to reach agreement.

“We have confidence that the presidency will manage to advance this way,” she told the news conference.

An EU official said the presidency compromise moves towards parliament’s position in several ways:

-- a new European telecoms regulatory body would have some elements of EU funding and not be a purely intergovernmental body as member states originally insisted;

-- a recognition by EU states that managing spectrum or radio waves freed up by the switch to digital television should have a pan-EU aspect rather than remain purely national;

-- a move towards accepting parliament’s stance that the Commission can veto an inadequate member state measure to boost competition if there is backing from the new EU regulatory body;

-- there is still no movement on how investment in next generation networks should be funded;

Malcolm Harbour, a British centre-right member of the European Parliament, said dealings so far with EU states had been like “walking through treacle”.

“There is a huge amount of work to be done but we now have a real opportunity to make significant progress,” Harbour said.

EU officials said hopes of a final deal on the telecoms package of measures before the end of April, when parliament goes into recess ahead of its June elections, looked better. (Writing by Huw Jones, editing by David Cowell)

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