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Friday, 13 October 2017

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New EU telecoms rules – Council ready to launch talks with Parliament

The Council today granted the Estonian presidency a general mandate to begin negotiations with the European Parliament on new rules for the electronic communications sector that will prepare Europe for the era of 5G by promoting investment, competition, consumer protection and the development of new services. Boosting investment is necessary to ensure that the EU is able to meet the ever-growing demand for gigabit connectivity, which is a vital part of the digital revolution.

Our future is digital, and these rules are key to creating a gigabit society throughout the EU," said Urve Palo, Estonia's Minister for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology. "I am pleased that the Estonian presidency has obtained this first mandate earlier than we expected. We will now make every effort to achieve solid progress in talks with the Parliament by the end of the year. The unanimous support for our proposal shows the Council's commitment to deliver on the digital single market."

The minister added that work on this file reflects the importance the Estonian presidency attaches to connectivity and 5G. "In July, my colleagues and I signed the declaration on the adoption of 5G. At the Tallinn Digital Summit, European leaders also discussed how to promote 5G and connectivity. These steps will be reflected in the meetings of the European Council and the Telecoms Council later this month."

The proposed rules, the European Electronic Communications Code, cover a wide range of areas, from consumer rights to operators' access to networks and member states' cooperation on spectrum management. The overhaul is intended to reflect changes in the market since the introduction of the current rules in 2009, and will provide a future-proof framework for a swift and extensive roll-out of 5G and other new generation technologies. These new technologies will facilitate the introduction and expansion of innovative digital services such as connected and autonomous cars, smart cities and smart energy grids. 

The Council mandate widens the scope of electronic communications services to take account of the growing importance of services provided over the internet (also known as 'over-the-top services', or 'OTT'), which includes VoIP, messaging apps and email. This is a major change compared to the current rules, which cover only traditional services that are linked to a specific number, such as text messages and landline and mobile calls. Certain characteristics of the service, such as whether the user pays for the service, will determine which rules will apply. In addition, the mandate includes a review mechanism to ensure that end-user rights remain up to date in view of the quick pace of change in business models and consumer behaviour.

The mandate provides for increased cooperation among member states to make radio spectrum available to operators in a timely and predictable manner. However, the Council text acknowledges that the best way to use spectrum varies across the EU, for a number of reasons, including physical geography, population distribution, market conditions and borders with non-EU countries. It also takes into account the fact that member states may need flexibility to react to technological and market changes in their management of spectrum.

The Council's position updates current rules on operators' access to networks to encourage competition and make it easier for companies to invest in new infrastructure, including in more remote areas. The mandate allows authorities to reduce the level of regulation to some extent where markets are competitive but introduces safeguards where these are necessary to ensure that the effective regulation of the market is not undermined.

The Council retains the core regulatory approach based on 'significant market power' (SMP), which has proved its value over the years in opening up markets to new entrants. However, as market players are becoming increasingly complex, SMP regulation alone is not enough to ensure competition in all cases. SMP rules will therefore be complemented with symmetric regulation of all providers of electronic communications networks in certain situations. In addition, the Council mandate introduces some additional tools to allow national regulatory authorities to address issues that may arise in certain market circumstances, such as duopolistic situations.

The mandate was granted by member states' ambassadors at a meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper I).

An initial exploratory 'trilogue' meeting with the European Parliament is expected to take place by the end of October, if the Parliament confirms at its next plenary session that this is possible.

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Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the alignment of certain countries concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Libya

On 17 July 2017, the Council adopted Council Decision (CFSP) 2017/1338[1]. The Council Decision applies restrictions on the sale, supply, transfer or export of certain vessels and motors to Libya which could be used in the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings.

The Candidate Countries Albania*, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Serbia*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EFTA countries Iceland and Norway, members of the European Economic Area, as well as the Republic of Moldova, Armenia and Georgia align themselves with this Council Decision.

They will ensure that their national policies conform to this Council Decision.

The European Union takes note of this commitment and welcomes it.

[1] Published on 01.04.2017 in the Official Journal of the European Union no. L89, p. 10.

* The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

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20 member states confirm the creation of an European Public Prosecutor's Office

On 12 October, the regulation establishing the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) was adopted by those member states which are part of the EPPO enhanced cooperation. The EPPO will be in charge of investigating, prosecuting and bringing to justice the perpetrators of offences against the Union's financial interests. It will bring together European and national law-enforcement efforts to counter EU fraud. 

"The creation of the European Public Prosecutor's Office is an important step in European justice cooperation, which will help to protect our taxpayers money. Even when criminals act across borders, we can now make sure they are brought to justice and that taxpayers' money is recovered."

Urmas Reinsalu, Estonian Minister of Justice

The EPPO central office will be based in Luxembourg. The date on which the EPPO will assume its investigative and prosecutorial tasks will be set by the Commission on the basis of a proposal from the European Chief Prosecutor once the EPPO has been set up. This date will not be earlier than three years after the entry into force of this regulation. 

So far, 20 member states have joined the enhanced cooperation: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia.

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Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the alignment of certain countries concerning restrictive measures in respect of actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine

On 14 September 2017, the Council adopted Decision (CFSP) 2017/1561[1].

The Council Decision renews the existing restrictive measures for a further six months, until 15 March 2018.

The Candidate Countries Montenegro* and Albania*, the EFTA country Norway, member of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine align themselves with this Council Decision.

They will ensure that their national policies conform to this Council Decision.

The European Union takes note of this commitment and welcomes it. 

[1] Published on 15.9.2017 in the Official Journal of the European Union no. L 237, p.72.

* Montenegro and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

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Deal on further simplification of EU agricultural rules through the Omnibus regulation

On 12 October 2017 the Estonian presidency and the European Parliament reached a preliminary agreement on the agricultural part of the so-called Omnibus regulation. The Omnibus regulation amends the financial regulation governing the implementation of the EU budget as well as 15 sectorial legislative acts, including in the field of agriculture. 

The agreed rules make a series of technical improvements to the four regulations governing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): direct payments, rural development, common market organisation and horizontal regulation. 

"I am glad to announce an agreement that reflects the position and priorities of the Council: simplification in continuity. In order to thrive, our farmers need to have a set of rules that are simple, effective and workable. Today we agreed on improvements that will make their daily life and the work of national administrations easier", said Marko Gorban, Chief negotiator, Estonian presidency

The new measures are part of a joint institutional effort to simplify the reformed Common Agricultural Policy in light of the experience acquired through its implementation, and offer member states additional leeway to act in line with specific national or regional needs. 

The agreement will have to be confirmed by the Special Committee on Agriculture during the meeting scheduled on Monday, 16 October.

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