EU Telecom Package: courage over details

Paris, 11 July 2017 - The last discussions on the draft on the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) before the summer break will take place today and we can only hope for very few changes before the vote on 11 September. The current trend is catastrophic: Pilar del Castillo, the main rapporteur known for her ties with large telcos, is leading to a world of monopolies were very few telcos (3 or 4, she may hope!) would share the whole EU market on optic fiber and radio spectrum. Very few latitude will be allowed to the national regulatory authorities (NRAs) to regulate the market and ensure that the core values also promoted by the European Union will be protected.

In September 2016, the European Commission launched the draft EECC, part of the telecom package, which aims to consolidate and update the EU legislation on telecommunications. The rapporteur Pilar del Castillo (EPP -ES), is almost successful in blocking the negotiations for securing the oligopolistic status-quo on the optic fiber. What happened exactly? Her report was completely focused on minimizing the regulation and maximazing the profit. Despite reasonably positive amendments from the other political groups such as S&D, ALDE and Greens, the "compromise amendments" are mostly following the direction the rapporteur gave in her report. Moreover, Pilar del Castillo is taking advantage of the opacity of the negotiations to keep the upper-hand: all the discussions for reaching agreements on compromise amendments1 are not public, the schedule of meetings is not even published, the working documents are not published either and only a very close contacts within the European Parliament (EP) allow the most informed part of the public to have information and documents. During these - very private - meetings, Pilar del Castillo speaks a lot and leaves very few room for the other shadow rapporteurs2 to express their views and for a real negotiation. If needed, she is also well-known for negotiating few minutes before a vote with the main opponent shadow to ensure that there is no real opposition against her. In 2014, only a very strong mobilisation of people and organisations all over Europe permitted to save Net Neutrality.

The next shadow meeting, gathering the rapporteur and the shadow rapporteurs, will take place today. This will be the last shadow meeting before the summer break and, more importantly, before the vote in ITRE Committee that will take place on 11 September, just after the summer break. The draft Code is a very technical text and Members of European Parliaments (MEPs) cannot improvise themselves experts within few months. Although this is important to update the current legislation, MEPs should thus focus on enforcing strong principles rather than getting lost with technical details which distract them from the core political issues at stake. As representatives of the EU citizens, they also have this responsibility of enshrining solid foundations. It is time to promote values (read our analysis already published) and not dwell on small adjustments that would only limit the damages.

Regulation is not an option nor a limitation to investment and innovation. It is the only way to limit the power of monopolistic telcos. As a response to the telcos arguing that they cannot achieve their political objectives with regulation, Sebastien Soriano (head of ARCEP, the French NRA, and chair of BEREC in 2017) declared that "it’s true that in the very short term it could be a temptation to give power to big players because big players may have more money in their pockets. So you may hope that with giving some kind of carrot to these guys, they will invest more and fulfill the political objective. But what we have experienced in Europe the last 20 years is that this is absolutely not the solution. Facts are talking."

We, and MEPs as well, need to fight the perfidious attacks from the largest EU telcos and their mole in the European Parliament: Pilar del Castillo. There is no time to lose: shadow rapporteurs must act now! Some of the groups have already tabled alternative compromise amendments to the non-compromised proposals from the rapporteur, but still face a real opposition. Until now, it seems that the S&D shadow rapporteur, Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, is strongly standing her ground against the main rapporteur, supported by the ALDE shadow Kaja Kallas, on issues such as "active and passive access" or "joint dominance" 3. Unfortunately, this does not seem to make Pilar del Castillo step back to reach a real and sustainable compromise.

La Quadrature du Net asks the shadows to keep moving towards a code that would respect the values and trends that have been the core of the EU policies so far, preventing the telcos from extending indefinitively their power and oligopolistic positions, promoting the network as a part of the commons necessary for the general interest and for protecting fundamental rights and freedoms. The base of any legal code is the values that shape its core and, through that, its future. Those core values were rather weak in the draft EECC, it needs to be strengthened, not weakened. If the EECC has a weak and a crumbly base, EU telecommunications market will be vultured by the most powerful actors burrying innovation, openness, competition and last, civil rights.

Act now, by calling your MEPs through the PiPhone and ask them to force Pilar del Castillo to step back.

  • 1. The compromise amendments reflect a very opaque and undemocratic process where, through backroom deals, Members of the EU Parliament (MEPs) try to shorten and simplify the vote by "mixing" their different stances on the text according to the respective weight of political groups.
  • 2. Once the rapporteur has been appointed as responsible for the text within the European Parliament, each political group appoints a "shadow rapporteur" who will be in charge of following the dossier for the group.
  • 3. See factsheets 4 and 5