Today, we had a good and constructive meeting of the Council, and I would like to thank the Slovene Presidency for their expertise and skills that paved the way for substantial progress among Telecom Ministers on the Telecoms Reform package.
I would at the same time like to thank the ambition shown by the rapporteurs in the European Parliament who have, over the past weeks, drafted very constructive reports on the Telecoms Reform which had a strong influence on our debate in the Council today.
Let me briefly address the main points where progress was made today:
First, there appears to be a consensus about the need to maintain and strengthen competition in our single telecoms market. I have noted that there is a broad majority around the table of ministers, and also in the European Parliament, to continue access regulation where there are competition bottlenecks on the telecoms markets. I welcome that there is a strong opposition in Europe to the idea of "regulatory holidays". I also take with me back to Brussels that most ministers agree with the Commission proposal to include the new remedy of functional separation in the remedies tool box of independent national telecoms regulators. This is a strong message from this Council for continuing and reinforcing the path of Europe's telecoms regulation that has successfully led to competition, access to new networks and lower prices for consumers.
Second, almost all ministers have spoken today about the need to ensure more regulatory consistency in Europe's single telecoms market. This is an important progress. We all see in these days that Europe's telecoms markets are converging. We see a "wedding of the elephants" going on at the moment, with cross-border take-overs and mergers, especially between former state owned incumbents. There clearly is a European single telecoms market "in the making", and this is a positive development. However, the regulatory framework needs to keep up with this change. Stronger pan-European players and the need to ensure efficient cross-border competition require a level-playing-field in regulatory terms: stronger and more independent regulators, close cooperation among regulators across borders and the coordination of regulatory remedies in order to avoid distortions of competition.
I see that almost everybody agrees today that the current ERG is not enough for responding to the regulatory challenges of the evolving European single market for telecoms.
I also note, however, that all ministers want something smaller than I proposed. The merger of the new European telecoms body with Europe's Network and Information Security Agency ENISA has faced a lot of opposition. I regret this as I believe that there are a lot of synergies to be won by combining network regulation with a security dimension. I continue to believe that it would have been better to have only one agency than two bodies. But I am also a politician, and I see where progress can be made and where one has to wait. So if Parliament and Council agree to keep ENISA, with its staff of around 50 persons, separate from the new Body of Telecoms Regulators, I will not oppose this. But I will continue to ask for enhancing the efficiency of ENISA and for strengthening Europe's response to network security threats. This is not an issue that we can afford to postpone for ever.
Let me finally also address one issue where I believe that further progress is required on this Telecoms package, and where I believe that the incoming French Presidency will have to play a very important role: this issue is the question of how Europe's consumer will benefit from our single telecoms market "in the making". I believe that we speak a little bit too often about regulators and operators in such Council meetings, and not often enough about Europe's telecoms consumers. We should therefore ask ourselves: How will the reform of the EU's telecoms rules make Europe a better place for telecoms consumers?
Here, I believe sincerely that we need to make more progress on the reform of radio spectrum management. Radio spectrum is a very valuable resource, and a more market-oriented, efficient and consistent management will not only give an economic boost to Europe's wireless industry, but at the same time make substantial progress towards achieving a Europe with "broadband for all" – whether in big cities or in less populated villages, whether in urban or in rural areas, whether at home or while travelling in Europe. I urge all Ministers not to let Europe's citizens down on this point.
Let me make a very bold proposal: Let us agree to make a very efficient and consumer-friendly use of Europe's digital dividend, the additional radio spectrum that will become available as soon as we switch from analogue to digital TV in the next 3 years. Let us agree to allocate, by 2010, 50 per cent of this digital to new mobile and wireless services. This would allow us to turn the dream of "broadband for all Europeans" into a reality, while at the same time allowing enough space for commercial and public broadcasters to develop and offer new and more modern TV services.
Let me finally say on the consumer aspect that I welcome that several ministers have sent me letters in advance and spoken out today in favour of an EU intervention on reducing SMS and data roaming charges and I highly welcome these "calls for action". As you know, I have given the industry a deadline to bring SMS and data roaming prices down by 1 July. I am keeping my word, but I hope that the industry will now finally get its job done. I saw the figures released yesterday by the GSM association: SMS roaming prices are now at 28 eurocent – down from 29 eurocent per roamed SMS national regulators measured in January. Ladies and gentlemen, I am not impressed by this. And if this stays unchanged until 1 July, you see from today's Council that I will not be the only one to believe that regulatory intervention will be necessary again. So, CEOs of all mobile operators: Do your job, respond to consumer concerns and lower your prices. You know exactly where you have to go!