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Implementation and enforcement of EU Telecoms rules

07 September 2009
by inadim -- last modified 07 September 2009

The liberalisation of the European telecommunications market from 1998 has brought more competition to the markets, and in turn brought major benefits to consumers in the form of lower prices and better services. Market regulation has nonetheless continued to be necessary and the European Commission oversees it is correctly implemented and enforced to ensure that consumers benefit to the maximum.


Infringement Procedures

The Commission has the power to launch infringement proceedings against any Member State that fails to comply with EU telecoms law and regulations.

Enforcing full and effective implementation of the regulatory framework in electronic communications is essential for the sector’s contribution to the overall goals of the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs. In view of the telecoms sector’s importance, the Commission takes a proactive role to ensure that these goals are achieved.

As the guardian of the EC Treaty, the Commission has the option of commencing infringement proceedings, under Article 226 of the EC Treaty, against a Member State, which in the eyes of the Commission infringes Community law, in this case the Directives that make up the telecoms regulatory framework. The Commission can try to bring the infringement to an end, and, if necessary, may refer the case to the Court of Justice.

Moreover, any person or body may lodge a complaint with the Commission against a Member State, in respect of any state measure or administrative practice which they consider incompatible with EU law. The Commission then decides whether or not further action should be taken on a complaint, following a well-defined infringement procedure.

When an infringement proceeding is pursued, the Commission sends the Member State concerned an initial legal assessment through a letter of formal notice, and invites the Member State to present its views regarding the facts.

If no reply to that letter of formal notice is received, or if the Member State’s observations in reply cannot be considered satisfactory, the Commission will issue a reasoned opinion expressing its view that an infringement exists and asks the Member State to remove it within a specified time limit.

If no reply to the reasoned opinion is received from the Member State or if the reply is unsatisfactory, the Commission may then refer the case to the Court of Justice. Member States are required to take the necessary measures to comply with a judgment of the Court of Justice establishing an infringement.

Under Article 228 of the EC Treaty, financial sanctions can be imposed on a Member State that has failed to take the measures necessary to comply with a judgment establishing an infringement. If, after a letter of formal notice and a reasoned opinion, the Commission considers that the Member State concerned has not taken such measures the Commission will refer the matter to the Court of Justice. The referral will be accompanied by a proposal on financial sanctions (lump sum or penalty payment). The final decision on the imposition of financial sanctions lies with the Court of Justice.

The Secretariat General, which coordinates the Commission’s work on the application of Community law, provides general details on infringement proceedings.

Proceedings against all Member States

As of the end of 2007, the Commission had opened proceedings in some 90 cases due to failures to implement correctly the regulatory framework for electronic communications. Each Member State has been the subject of at least one case. At least 14 of those cases had been closed without the need to go to the European Court of Justice, after the Member States involved agreed to comply with the requirements of the framework.

The cases have covered various issues such as the independence and powers of national regulatory authorities, compliance with universal service obligations, the provision of caller location information to emergency services, and number portability.

Source: European Commission

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