Thursday

15th Nov 2018

Idea for more EU digital talks remains 'suggestion' for now

  • 'If we need to meet more often, yes, why not,' said Estonian minister Urve Palo, who chaired the Telecoms Council in the second half of 2017 (Photo: Council of the European Union)

A proposal to have EU ministerial meetings on telecommunications affairs more than twice a year, to show citizens the importance of the digital single market strategy, so far remains little more than a non-committal suggestion.

Neither Bulgaria and Austria, who will chair the meetings next year, plan to have additional meetings, in contrast with the outgoing Estonian presidency.

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In October, the Estonian presidency of the council of the EU held an extra such meeting, called the Telecoms Council.

Urve Palo, Estonian minister for entrepreneurship and information technology, said on Monday (4 December) that the extra meeting helped speed up the work on a legislative proposal on free movement of non-personal data.

"I think that the 'in-between' meeting we had, it really did contribute to the fact that we are now so close to reaching an agreement on the freedom of movement of data," she said at a press conference in Brussels, after wrapping up the second telecoms council of the Estonian presidency.

When asked by this website if the telecommunications ministers should meet more often than the standard twice-a-year, Palo said "why not", but refrained from publicly suggesting to successor presidencies to organise them.

"As for whether we should meet more often: I don't think it is so much about quantity as quality," said Palo.

"If we need to meet more often, yes, why not."

The idea was proposed by Luxembourgish prime minister Xavier Bettel, who is also the Grand Duchy's telecommunications minister.

"We should see each other much more regularly than twice a year," said Bettel at the 24 October telecoms council.

He proposed to meet every three or four months, to show the importance of the digital single market project.

But a Luxembourgish diplomat told EUobserver on Monday that she was not aware of any diplomatic push by her compatriots for additional telecoms meetings.

"It was a suggestion," she said about Bettel's remarks.

At the October meeting, it was supported explicitly by his French colleague Mounir Mahjoubi.

However, according to the draft calendars of the Bulgarian presidency (1 January – 30 July 2018) and the Austrian presidency (1 June – 31 December 2018), only one telecoms council during each presidency has been scheduled, per tradition.

A spokeswoman for the Bulgarian presidency, when asked by this website if Bulgaria would consider more than one telecoms council, said in an email that digital affairs were a "horizontal priority".

"Digital files will be covered by all other council configurations. Substance is important," she said.

A spokeswoman for Austria could not comment, because coalition talks for a new government there have not yet wrapped up.

See you in June 2018

The Netherlands was one of the countries supporting additional meetings.

However, recently appointed deputy minister for economic affairs Mona Keijzer, who had her first telecoms council, said nothing about it on Monday.

She thanked the Estonians for their work on a legislative proposal called the electronic communications code, which will set rules for telecommunications companies.

"With positions so far apart and industry commenting from the sidelines, your presidency is not to be envied," Keijzer said.

"We will not meet again before June, so I wish you and the Bulgarian presidency the best of luck in the months ahead."

Speed up

Bettel's suggestion in October came days after he and 27 other EU government leaders, called on the telecoms council "to speed up and prioritise the work" towards a digital single market.

"We have already made good progress," said Estonian minister Palo on Monday.

"We have managed to move faster on the electronic communications code than many of us expected."

She said she saw "a complete U-turn in the attitudes" towards freedom of data movement.

Initially, ministers spoke about that idea as threatening to data protection.

"I now heard ministers speak not about the threat related to free movement of data. Everybody was speaking about what a great chance and opportunity it is for the European Union, for our startups."

The meeting saw a common council position adopted on the future of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communication, and a ministerial declaration on 5G.

The 5G declaration said that by 2020 mobile 5G connections should be available in at least one city in each EU member state, and that the full 5G infrastructure should be in place by 2025.

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