Liberals move to support EU Telecoms Package 'compromise'

Today’s agenda is dominated by two ongoing sagas – Telenor’s epic court battle against a Russian oligarchy to keep its investments there and the ever more convoluted shenanigans surrounding the EU’s Telecoms Package.

In both cases, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

In the case of the Telecoms Package which will have a profound and permanent effect on the shape of the telecoms industry in Europe, Rapporteurs on two of the key Directives that make up the Package have reportedly schemed with the European Council and unknown large telecom operators to change the nature of telecoms provision –including internet access.

For all the gory details, see here and here, but in a nutshell, France’s Catherine Trautman and the UK’s Malcolm Harbour have snook the weasel words, ‘limitations on access to and/or use of services and applications' into the wording of the Telecoms Package as a so-called compromise.

Opponents argue that could be interpreted as arbitrary restriction by those who provide access to all types of telecom services, whether its ISPs blocking content disapproved of by national governments or services such as VoIP that take money out of the operators’ pockets.

The vote on the second European Parliamentary reading of their reports on the Framework and Universal Service Directives has been postponed until Wednesday 6th May, (from Tuesday 5th) and in the meantime, observers have been surprised and shocked by the number of MEPs who previously showed every sign of supporting openness pledging their support to the compromise.

They include Greek MEP Stavros Lambrinidis (PSE) who won praise just over a month ago for his ground-breaking report  on fundamental freedoms and the internet.

Monica Horten, veteran telecom journalist, Brussels watcher and PhD student in the political battle for online content in the EU, comments, “The signature represents a turn-around on his part and raises questions about the level of pressure being placed on the European Parliament to agree to the "compromise" which industry and the Council are demanding. German MEP Alexander Alvaro (ALDE) has equally inexplicably  signed the "compromise".  Mr Alvaro is on the Parliament's Civil Liberties committee and is well-regarded by the user community.”

Horten adds, “The vote has been postponed to Wednesday – I heard the Socialists  asked for a postponement, but the reason is not clear. The debate will still be on Tuesday as scheduled, but in my experience, debates in the European Parliament don't count for much, but this will be tense.”

Gérald Sédrati-Dinet, analyst for civil rights campaigning group La Quadrature du Net, insists,” All MEPs must vote for the 'Citizens Rights Amendments', because safeguarding EU citizens fundamental rights and freedoms is the most important mission of the European Parliament. Protecting basic rights must not be left to consumer and competition laws. There can be no compromise on basic principles, certainly not merely to make the EU procedure go faster. The image of the Parliament, a few weeks before the elections, is at stake."

We’ll soon find out, unless of course the vote is postponed again.