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Procedure : 2012/2881(RSP)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : RC-B7-0498/2012

Texts tabled :

RC-B7-0498/2012

Debates :

PV 20/11/2012 - 14
CRE 20/11/2012 - 14

Votes :

PV 22/11/2012 - 13.6
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2012)0451

Debates
Tuesday, 20 November 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

14. Forthcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-2012) of the International Telecommunications Union, and the possible expansion of the scope of international telecommunication regulations (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. - The next item is the statements by the Council and the Commission concerning the forthcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-2012) and the possible expansion of the scope of international telecommunications regulations.

 
  
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  Loucas Louca, President-in-Office of the Council. (EL). Mr President, the international telecommunications regulations concern matters relating to international, not national telecommunications services. However, there are aspects of the regulations that have a direct bearing on the acquis of the European Union, and specifically on the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications.

The European Union ought to ensure that any changes made to the regulations, as a result of the WCIT world conference in Dubai, do not contradict the legislation in force in the European Union. In addition, it must be guaranteed that the WCIT will not under any circumstances restrict the European Union in terms of the future development of the Community acquis.

As representative of the Presidency of the Council, I am here today to assure you that the Council fully supports the two objectives which have been set in the lead-up to the World Conference, namely the effort to avoid and resolve any clash with the EU acquis and the provision of assurances that the EU acquis will be able to develop as we choose in the future. The 27 Member States which are to participate and negotiate at the WCIT as full members will convey and defend these two messages before the 163 other member states of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is organising this world conference.

The 27 Member States have undertaken to make every possible effort to ensure that the end result of the WCIT reflects the priorities of the European Union and existing commitments.

As you know, the preparatory process for the WCIT is quite complex. Of particular importance for the European Union are the ITU working group and the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT). The EU Member States and the European Commission have actively participated in this preparatory process, where they took the same line. The European Commission will also take part in the WCIT as an observer, and not a full negotiating member. Under the ITU rules, full participation is granted only to the representations of the ITU member states. However, in order to derive greater benefit from the Commission’s presence at the WCIT as part of the effort to promote objectives or regulate matters affecting the European Union, we shall ask the WCIT organisers to accept the European Union, through the Commission, as an observer in an advisory role. Although this arrangement will not allow the Commission to negotiate on the proposals, it will nevertheless enable it to request the floor during the negotiations, after ITU member states have spoken, in order to provide useful advice or information on points which have a bearing on, and are in line with, the European Union’s position.

Since the start of the Cyprus Presidency, we have been discussing the Commission’s proposal, which essentially was fully supported by the Council and which consists in attempting to avoid or resolve any conflict with the EU acquis and ensuring that the EU acquis can be developed as we choose. The Commission also proposed that the European Union, represented by the Commission, should negotiate a revision of the regulations at Dubai. On this last point, however, we must recognise that the ITU rules do not allow the European Union to participate in the WCIT as a full negotiating member. Whether the Commission participates as an observer, or participates as an observer in an advisory capacity, the ITU rules do not allow observers to submit proposals or to negotiate positions. The decision on whether to allow the Commission to participate as an observer in an advisory capacity will be taken by the chairman on the first day of the conference in Dubai.

Let me stress that the Council fully recognises that the Commission must present the Union’s position while recognising that only the Member States of the European Union are able to negotiate proposals. These are the ITU rules and the Council cannot change them. What is important is that the Commission and Member States should cooperate closely to ensure that in Dubai the position of the European Union is presented correctly, consistently and promptly, on the basis of the collective expertise of the conference participants representing the Member States of the European Union. It is therefore particularly important that we should take care to coordinate effectively on this, so that we are in a position to respond promptly and effectively on the many proposals which ITU members intend to submit.

The Cyprus Presidency has prepared an informal document, which was discussed in the Council, setting out practical arrangements for better cooperation and coordination of the actions of the 27 Member States and the European Commission during the conference. For this purpose, the Cyprus Presidency and the European Commission jointly organised a meeting which was held on Friday, 16 November in Brussels, with the heads of the national representations of the Member States or their Dubai representatives. At this meeting, there was an in-depth discussion of questions of practical cooperation and coordination of actions with a view to better representation of the European Union at the conference.

I hope my answers regarding the procedural aspect of the WCIT have adequately covered the issues which Ms Verheyen raised in her oral question.

On the main issue, regarding internet regulation and charges to internet content providers, it is enough to say that at the WCIT they will agree that the ITU should regulate the internet and that telecommunications providers will be able to charge internet content providers. This is a development which is contrary to the European Union’s primary aim at the WCIT, because the results are not compatible with the acquis of the European Union, and it is not anticipated that they will become compatible in the future.

The common European positions reflect the joint European proposals, which will be submitted by the CEPT at the conference; these take account of, and are consistent with, the European acquis. I would like to end with the observation that when the international telecommunications regulations were adopted in 1988, this happened in an environment of traditional networks on the basis of leased connections; in other words, providing for separate services on separate networks. Nowadays, to an ever-increasing degree, there is a single IP-based infrastructure for providing all the services, regardless of whether they are voice, video or data, on a single device. In addition to this, there has been a dramatic rise in mobile telephony and increased network congestion due to the increase in data traffic, particularly video data traffic.

All these developments create challenges for the structure of today’s communications systems and for the rules governing those systems, both in the developed and in the developing world. The Council is fully committed to making every possible effort to ensure that the outcome of the WCIT is fully in harmony with the acquis of the European Union and with the EU objective of further expanding the digital economy in the European Union.

 
  
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  Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the Commission. − (FR) Mr President, President-in-Office of the Council, this evening I am replacing the Vice-President, Commissioner Kroes.

The internet we know and use today was able to be developed organically because of the free rein given to the need for creative and innovative talent, which created the infrastructure and its content for the benefit of all citizens. The internet is also a source of jobs and economic growth, both in Europe and in the developing world.

At the next World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai, a revised treaty may introduce more restrictive regulations on the internet. Regulation of the internet would risk harming innovation and growth in this field, which has contributed so much to the world economy. It would risk restricting the growth of traffic and circulation of data, increasing costs, creating administrative constraints and limiting the creation of new enterprises. It is not in the interest of our industry to stifle the large capital represented by the internet.

It is even more important to note that a large number of countries which are aiming for greater regulation of the internet, through the Dubai processes, do not share the same values and respect for human rights as the European Union. Opening the door to stricter internet control for these countries involves a high risk of undermining freedom of expression, protection of private life and legitimate exercise of political dissidence. It is therefore important to reject all suggestions of this bent. This is why the European Union should oppose a widening of the current scope of regulations on international telecommunications, in particular with regard to content and control of traffic.

The Commission participated actively in the conference preparations. We are expecting very difficult negotiations in Dubai, bearing in mind the positions of other countries and their expectations of a new treaty. Having said that, a large number of countries are of the same mind as the European Union and I am optimistic that an inappropriate and excessively restrictive regulation will be avoided. Great vigilance and good coordination between us, and also a lot of work, are essential.

The European Commission is happy that ETNO, the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association, has supported the position of the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations, which stipulates that provisions on IP interconnections have no place in the regulation of international telecommunications.

The Commission’s proposal for a Council decision on a common position of the European Union for the World Conference on International Telecommunications was adopted on 2 August 2012 and was passed on to the Council and European Parliament. Our position is to make sure that any change to the regulations on international telecommunications does not affect the common rules of the European Union or their scope. The Commission and the European Union are of the opinion that this is not the appropriate platform for defining pricing and compensation systems.

At the moment, the absence of specific regulations on telecommunications and the internet allows the European Union to take legislative or regulatory measures concerning internet neutrality that we, the European Union, consider necessary. The Member States will soon adopt a revised version of this proposal submitted by the President. The Commission notes that the Member States have indicated their support for the Commission’s position and that this type of initiative would be detrimental to the future development of the internet as an open and innovative communication platform.

However, the Commission wishes to express its regret that Member States have not been able to reach agreement on institutional issues concerning representation of the European Union as envisaged in the Treaty of Lisbon. The European Union needs to speak loudly to ensure a positive result to the negotiations in Dubai.

This is why the Commission will make every effort to defend the European Union’s position as strongly as possible during negotiations at the World Conference on International Telecommunications.

 
  
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  Sabine Verheyen, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (DE) Mr President, in December the World Conference on International Telecommunications will develop and discuss new standards. Until now the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has had the task of determining competences, interoperability and technical standards. Certain countries, such as China, Russia and a number of Arabic and African states, would like more internet governance competences to be transferred to the ITU and governance structures for the internet to be included in the review of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR).

We want to make it clear in our resolution that we explicitly reject this, as it could allow basic rights such as the freedom of speech, freedom of information and commercial development potential to be restricted. Under certain conditions the internet would lose its independence. In the past, free access to the internet and the discrimination-free transmission of data have unleashed great potential for commercial development, the dissemination of cultural and creative content and the exchange of knowledge and should continue to do so in the future. The internet has become an established part of democratic structures. Small and medium-sized enterprises in particular have been able to tap into new markets via the internet.

We are therefore asking the Council and Commission not to expand the competences of the ITU to internet governance in the course of the negotiations at the WCIT and to work towards securing the aims of the EU of further developing the internet into an open network, paying particular attention to human rights and fundamental freedoms, and exploiting the commercial development potential it offers! The architecture of the multi-stakeholder approach to internet governance has proved to be successful and should be developed further in the future. I would therefore like to ask the Commission and Council to coordinate a common line in the negotiations on the ITR and to represent the European position effectively – in the interests of the basic rights of citizens, development potential and freedoms!

 
  
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  Ivailo Kalfin, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Mr President, in this Parliament we prevented the adoption of ACTA some time ago. We have voted consistently on the freedom and openness of the internet.

I think that at the coming World Conference on International Telecommunications in December 2012 we have to maintain a very strong stance. I really think that the European Union is expected to adopt a common position on the basis of a very good proposal which has already been submitted by the European Commission. We are going to participate in negotiations in the framework of a UN body which is the International Telecommunications Union. We have different countries with different interests participating in this body.

The internet is a very strong tool nowadays. There are many countries that would like to control it because they are afraid of the strength of internet and the people using internet. We have different examples of countries or organisations that want to establish control of the internet, for example, changing the business model and making it more expensive and less accessible and with more monopolies working on it. There were some governments which some time ago wanted to create a national internet, the very idea of which is an oxymoron. Such a thing is not possible.

But I have also heard of some proposals that are going to be presented, most probably at this conference, coming from Russia – which is a very powerful state – saying that member states should have the sovereign right to regulate the activities of operating agencies providing internet. That is the end of the freedom of the internet. There are proposals saying that member states should have the sovereign right to manage the internet within their national territory. What does it mean to manage the internet on the national territory and what does it mean to link the internet with the sovereign rights of the country? There are proposals saying that member states should have equal rights in deciding about internet addresses and domain names. This is the end of the current system of multi-stakeholders regulating the internet. It is not possible.

That is why we insist on a common position for the European Union and a very strong involvement of the Commission.

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, we have heard a lot about rules. I want to say a bit about the gist of the debate on this resolution and the context in which it is taking place.

The internet and technologies have changed people’s lives around the world, empowering them to access information, to express themselves freely, to assemble and to document human rights violations, for example; and for businesses and entrepreneurs, too, the opportunities are very exciting. With the help of technology, it is easier to challenge monopolies, including powers that have traditionally lain in the hands of government and media.

At the same time we have to be careful that no new monopolies emerge.

Revolutionary change never comes without protest from those with a vested interest: businesses that want to secure their profitable models; governments that want to control people.

Multinational organisations are the new arena for battles of this kind. The International Telecommunications Union may have been a technical and somewhat obscure organisation dealing with standards, but these standards are increasingly being used in political fights and in the re-territorialisation of the internet in the grip of nation states, and the standards are also being tweaked to protect business models.

Under the guise of fighting spam, speech has been stifled; and, in the name of cyber security, online surveillance has dramatically increased. Banning ‘voice over Internet Protocol’ services hampers free speech by criminalising it, as in Africa, or throttling it, as was the case in the Netherlands – which is why my party pushed for enshrining net neutrality in law.

Our resolution addresses some of the most urgent concerns relating to internet governance. Some argue that this is actually a contradiction in terms, but what is certainly true is that the internet has developed into the fruitful platform it is today without much regulation.

Today we are talking specifically about the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which will host the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai, and it makes sense to update the system of regulation because this has not been done for a very long time. However, we should bear in mind that the ITU’s recommendations are non-binding documents that promote best practices.

Each of the 27 EU Member States has a vote, and if the EU wants to be a global player – if we want our voice to be heard – we must speak out loudly as one, and we should further the development of the internet as a truly public sphere in which fundamental freedoms are guaranteed.

 
  
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  Amelia Andersdotter, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Mr President, colleagues, I am very happy that Parliament has taken the time to discuss the issue of the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications. Too often when important positions on how we can communicate or not are taken at an international level, they escape the eye of the public and they do not get sufficient attention. I do believe that Parliament has shown in this last week that it is able to represent the interests of the public when it comes to international telecommunications.

We have drafted a resolution which shows very clearly where the Parliament stands on issues of regulating the internet and information and communication technologies. We also addressed the issue of transparency in the WCIT and ITU processes that was brought up by the Council earlier this evening.

I would like just to extend my thanks to colleagues from all of the political groups for their collaboration and I hope that the Council and the Commission will take our proposals on board in their future work.

 
  
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  Gunnar Hökmark (PPE). - Mr President, I think there is a broad agreement in this House with the Commission and with the Council that the most important task is to defend the freedom of the internet and I think it is extremely good to hear how deep that agreement is.

We all know, and it has been said here, that the freedom of internet has been a pre-condition for the development of the internet as such. We all know that the freedom of the internet has meant the freedom of information, the freedom of expression. The freedom of the internet has changed our societies, is changing our societies and will change our societies – provided we are able to keep it free and independent.

We all know that there are a lot of forces, a lot of regimes who would like to hinder this development, just for the reasons we have pointed to, because they are afraid of the freedom of expression. They are afraid of the freedom of information and that is why the European Union must be extremely clear and must take a decisive line to defend this freedom and independence.

But also to secure that we do not give any excuses for those who would like to intervene. It is important that we do not give opportunities to block services or accept that this is being done anywhere else because that will always be used by those forces and those regimes that are most eager to hinder the freedom of expression and the freedom of information, but who are also blocking the importance of the internet itself. We will see the same changes in the future as we have seen in the past and the best way to secure the internet is that we defend it against any regime that wants to hinder its development. I appreciate that the Council and Commission as well as the political groups here have been so decisive on this issue.

 
  
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  Debora Serracchiani (S&D). - (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, as we have recalled in this chamber, next December the United Nations agency responsible for communications technology and information will meet in Dubai for the ITU World Conference on International Telecommunications. The aim is to renegotiate the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs). We cannot forget – I am pleased at the words used by Commissioner Tajani – the work that has been done so far, which cannot be up for debate, nor can we allow the authority of the European Union to be bypassed by a supranational organisation such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), to which, as we know, hundreds of States around the world belong, many of which are renowned for having problems linked to democracy, transparency and freedom of expression.

We are not mistaken therefore in thinking that the pillars of the internet – in other words, freedom, participation, openness and innovation – are under threat. I believe it is necessary to safeguard the role of the internet and, more importantly, the role that the internet can have in reviving economic growth, as well as guaranteeing opportunities for all. Therefore, I hope the Commission will endeavour to ensure that in Dubai, Europe presents a united front and speaks with one voice.

There are many controversial proposals on the table for the World Conference on International Telecommunications, particularly those that propose changes to internet governance that call into question the neutrality of the internet, with negative repercussions for consumers. The freedom of the internet or, more specifically, the freedom of expression and data protection, are therefore at risk. What some States have proposed would entitle a government to monitor not only the communications of its citizens, but even the data exchanged over its networks. It is a very small step from here to the curtailment of freedom of expression and censure, therefore I believe it is contrary to the fundamental principles of the European Union.

 
  
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  Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the Commission. − (FR) Mr President, first of all I would like to thank all the deputies who have supported the Commission’s position in its commitment to speak with a single voice at the European Union and to defend not only the freedom of the internet, but also the values of the Union. The Vice-President, Commissioner Kroes, will be informed of this debate.

However, the projects need to be read. The solutions currently put forward by Parliament would be detrimental to the efforts the Commission has been taking for some months to obtain from Council a mandate for negotiation in the World Conference on International Telecommunications.

In accordance with Article 118 of the Treaty, Europe – I insist – must speak out loudly if we wish to defend an internet free of control and intervention.

 
  
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  Loucas Louca, President-in-Office of the Council. (EL). Mr President, as I ran a little over time with my initial address, I shall be very brief. Given the importance of conferences such as the WCIT for the future of the digital agenda in Europe, the views of all the institutional bodies are welcome. We will also need to have a clear understanding of the role to be played by these conferences which cover such a wide constituency and a sector in which the technology and content are evolving so quickly. For this reason, micro-regulation must be avoided and, conversely, there is a need to ensure that the revised regulations will maintain a high standard and that they will remain strategically and technologically neutral. I would like to thank you for the interest you have shown in the WCIT and for your willingness to approve this resolution. To conclude, I would like to repeat that the Presidency is fully committed to facilitating the representation of the European Union’s views in Dubai – views which will be in line with the acquis and will favour a more dynamic digital Europe.

 
  
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  President. - The motions for resolutions to be tabled under Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure will be announced at a later stage.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 22 November 2012.

(The sitting was suspended at 20.55 and resumed at 21.00)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: OLDŘICH VLASÁK
Vice-President

 
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