Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

Focus

EP sticks to compromise rules on roaming and net neutrality

  • EU digital chief Ansip, with some of his colleagues accessing the Internet behind him. "It is a good deal for Europe" (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament on Tuesday (27 October) decided to stick with a compromise deal on roaming surcharges and Internet rules, giving it final approval, rather than risk reopening lengthy negotiations by adopting changes to the proposed legislation.

All of the amendments tabled by MEPs concerned with what they dubbed 'loopholes' in the legal text, were rejected in a vote on Tuesday afternoon. The amendments received support from between 160 and 230 MEPs at the 751-MEP plenary session in Strasbourg.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The deal was agreed before the summer break between negotiators on behalf of the EP and the EU's national governments. (Photo: European Parliament / Pietro Naj-Oleari)

Germany's Pirate Party representative, Julia Reda, member of the Green group, wrote in a social media message that she saw the amendments were supported by “mostly” MEPs from the left-wing of the political spectrum.

At Tuesday morning's plenary debate, there were already clear signs that the major political groups would support the deal, which was agreed before the summer break between negotiators on behalf of the EP and the EU's national governments.

“We've managed to achieve the goal we set from the outset: abolishing roaming”, said Spanish centre-right MEP Pilar del Castillo Vera, referring to the surcharges that telecom operators add to phone bills when mobile phone users call or connect to the Internet when abroad.

Del Castillo was the chief negotiator on behalf of the EP.

“We managed to set out the requisite guarantees so that all internet traffic – and I stress all internet traffic – is treated equally”, added the Spanish politician, referring to the principle called net neutrality.

Her Danish colleague from the centre-right group, Bendt Bendtsen, noted that the compromise deal on the regulation, which will directly apply to the whole EU, was an improvement on the current situation.

“I can hear that not everyone is happy with the net neutrality results. … This is the first time we have a safeguard in legislation”, noted Bendtsen.

Italian centre-left MEP Nicola Danti said the new rules were a “step forward”, noting: "We should be satisfied with it.”

Another Dane, Liberal Jens Rohde, said that while he would have liked more safeguards, the regulation is “a big step ahead”. “If this agreement is not adopted, we have nothing in Europe”, noted Rohde.

Change, and risk delays

Their comments followed a speech by the EU's digital commissioner Andrus Ansip, who said European citizens “have [been] waiting for a long time for this” and urged MEPs to vote in favour of the compromise without amending it.

If the EP had amended the text, the changes would have needed approval from national governments. In that case, the more likely scenario would have been further negotiations.

“There is no justification for any further delay”, said the former prime minister of Estonia, adding later: “Any change now would create a real risk of delays that could be not only months but years.”

Both the European Parliament and the Commission had promised European voters that roaming surcharges would end by December 2015, a promise that they have had to break.

The new rules will see the end of roaming surcharges by mid-2017, although there are justified concerns that this date is conditional because it depends on additional steps by the European Commission and telecom regulators.

Those who read between the lines also heard Ansip arguing that by offering European citizens an end to the loathed roaming surcharges, the European Union could show citizens a much-needed success story, amidst growing euroscepticism among voters.

Adoption of the deal “will show the Union can deliver tangible results. Failure will have an opposite and demoralising effect”, noted Ansip.

“You now have the deal in your hands. It is a good deal for Europe and Europeans”, said Ansip.

This narrative proved effective with many MEPs.

British Labour MEP Theresa Griffin, for example, whose country will in the near future have a vote on whether to stay in the EU, noted the new rules would end “outrageous phone bills”.

“This is yet another reason why the EU benefits us in Britain and why the UK is stronger in the European Union”, said Griffin.

Net neutrality or no neutrality, that is the question

As for the second part of the legislation - concerning the rules on net neutrality - the debate on Tuesday morning might as well have taken place in two parallel universes.

In one universe, where most MEPs from the centre-right EPP and ECR, and the centre-left socialist groups dwell, the agreed text will guarantee that the Internet will keep its open character. In the other universe, MEPs believed the opposite to be the case.

“The text is very clear. Providers of internet access services will not be able to discriminate, block, etcetera, content or services of different categories”, said Austrian centre-right MEP Paul Ruebig.

British Conservative member Vicky Ford said the “new rules do guarantee net neutrality”, Del Castillo Vera said there will be no “two-speed Internet”, while Finnish centre-right MEP Henna Virkkunnen said the “EU will be the first to implement net neutrality in the world” (which is incorrect – Chile was the first).

But several left-wing MEPs said the text is “ambiguous”, and noted that in the entire text there is no mention of the phrase 'net neutrality' nor is there a definition for it.

“We don't have agreed rights if there is ambiguity”, said Portuguese far left MEP Marisa Matias, while her colleague from the Italian Five Star Movement, Dario Tamburrano, said the new regulation “is not actually going to produce real net neutrality”.

These left-wing politicians echoed the concerns voiced over the past week by several Internet experts from outside the EP's Strasbourg building.

On Monday, the inventor of one of the Internet's most popular features, the World Wide Web, called on MEPs to adopt the amendments.

“If adopted as currently written, these rules will threaten innovation, free speech and privacy, and compromise Europe’s ability to lead in the digital economy”, Tim Berners-Lee wrote in a statement.

But the appeal from the Briton was to no avail. The next step is formal adoption by the Council, representing member states, but no changes are expected from that body.

EU telecom watchdog plan dead on arrival

The European Commission wants to upgrade the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications into an agency, but both the parliament and member states are against it.

News in Brief

  1. EU tables plan for joint approach to 5G security
  2. MEPs agree to scrap summer time clock changes by 2021
  3. European Parliament votes on reform of copyright
  4. New French-German parliament meets for first time
  5. EU parliament reduces polling ahead of elections
  6. UK parliament votes to take control of Brexit process
  7. EU publishes no-deal Brexit contingency plans
  8. EU urges Israel and Gaza to re-establish calm

Magazine

The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted

It is a divisive 'Brussels bubble' debate: whether to give the European Parliament more of a say on who becomes the next European Commission president. But the issue goes right to the heart of European integration.

Magazine

All about the European Parliament elections 2019

EUobserver's new magazine is meant to help readers prepare for the European Parliament elections, no matter their level of knowledge. You can download and read the entire magazine now.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. EU lawmakers pass contentious copyright law
  2. France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns
  3. Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?
  4. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  5. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  6. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  7. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  8. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us