Telecoms Future In MEPs' Hands Ahead Of Crucial Vote

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will vote tomorrow to decide whether or not a much-debated set of reforms to EU telecoms regulation will pass into law. Parliament negotiators have already backed the proposal.

The Telecoms Package of reforms was first proposed by the European Commission in 2007 but has proved controversial. Agreement was finally reached between the Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers earlier this year on almost all of the proposals.

The Parliament, though, reintroduced a previously-rejected amendment demanding that countries require court oversight of any attempts to cut off people's internet access because of alleged copyright infringements.

That amendment was rejected and, with it, the whole Telecoms Package. No single part of it could progress unless all parts of it did.

Negotiators on behalf of the Parliament and the Council met earlier this month, though, and agreed a compromise text. That text was agreed by a full meeting of the Council late last week and the deal's only hurdle is a plenary session of the European Parliament tomorrow.

If MEPs give the new Package the green light tomorrow it will enter into force in December and must become law in EU member states by June 2011.

The text no longer says that disconnections cannot take place without the involvement of a court. It now says that there must be a "prior fair and impartial procedure … [and] a right to an effective and timely judicial review".

"Any measures taken by Member States regarding access to or use of services and applications through telecoms networks must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens, as they are guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and in general principles of EU law," said a Commission statement outlining the contents of the new text.

The Parliament had been informed that its demands for court oversight over-stepped the powers available to any part of EU government.

"The Parliament has had legal advice from its own legal service that Amendment 138 was not legally admissible," a Parliament source told OUT-LAW.COM before negotiations with the Council took place. "It was told that it went beyond Community competency."

If passed by MEPs, the Package will also introduce a controversial new law on websites' use of cookies. It says that website operators must receive the consent of users before putting a cookie on their machines.

Technology law expert Struan Robertson of Pinsent Masons has called that law "breathtakingly stupid".

"There has been almost no fuss about this little law, despite the harm it could do to advertising, the lifeblood of online publishing," he wrote recently. "It also threatens to irritate all web users by appearing at every new destination like an over-zealous security guard."