Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Third Report


COM(02) 77

Commission Opinion on the European Parliament's amendments to the Council's common position regarding the proposal for a draft Directive on universal service and users' rights relating to electronic communications networks and services, amending the proposal of the Commission pursuant to Article 250(2) of the EC Treaty.

Legal base:Article 95 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Department:Trade and Industry
Basis of consideration: EM of 19 March 2002
Previous Committee Report: None; but see (21566) 10963/00: HC 152-i (2001-02), paragraph 45 (18 July 2001)
Discussed in Council: 6-7 December 2001 Transport and Telecommunications Council
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared

  18.1  The Directive, known as the "Universal Service Directive", is one of seven legislative proposals that arose from the European Commission's 1999 review of the regulatory framework for telecommunications. It aims to revise, consolidate and update existing legislation on universal service and users' rights in relation to electronic communications networks, including measures for compensating service providers without distorting competition.

  18.2  The Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness (Mr Douglas Alexander) says that the Council and European Parliament started negotiations on the key elements in the package in the autumn of 2000. These culminated in a Second Reading agreement reached shortly before Christmas 2001. On 7 February 2002, the Minister informed us of the outcome of the negotiations. No texts were available at that time but the Minister said that when they had been finalised, Explanatory Memoranda would be submitted on them "as normal". We considered this letter on 13 February[40]. The Minister now tells us that the Directive was adopted on 14 February.

The Commission Opinion

  18.3  The Commission's Opinion lists the amendments to the Common Position that were agreed as part of the final deal, and confirms that the Commission finds all of these acceptable in full, thereby clearing the way to adoption and entry into force. The main amendments agreed were:

  • a recital change recognising the scope for Member States to include requirements on access by disabled users as part of "must carry" obligations on TV/radio networks;

  • a reference to the need for a market-driven common standard for digital interactive television, supported by policy initiatives from the Commission and Member States;

  • a series of amendments which enhance the scope for National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) to assess and develop new quality standards in relation to disabled users' needs, and to require consultation with disabled users;

  • clarification of the role of NRAs in consumer protection, retail price regulation and the provision of information to end-users on, for example, standard tariffs;

  • a reference to the value of co-regulation;

  • scope for Member States to extend the controls developed for consumers to small and medium-sized enterprises; and

  • recognition that the obligation on network operators to provide caller location information to the emergency services depends on technical feasibility.

The Government's view

  18.4  The Minister says that the Government fully supported the agreement reached on the Directive in December, and believes that the final version of the package represents a very good outcome for the UK. He says that none of the amendments made to the Universal Service Directive create policy problems for the UK and that some are positively welcome. On the issue of digital TV inter-operability, the UK supports the approach reflected in the new wording in the recital on the development of industry-led standards which the Minister says is in line with the amendments made to the Framework Directive[41]. The European Parliament's agreement to drop amendments to Article 17 of the Directive, which might have limited the scope for NRAs to continue to impose specific requirements on operators for competition reasons, was welcome.


  18.5  We accept that the outcome of the negotiations with the European Parliament was acceptable to the Government and that it liaised closely with industry and consumer representatives throughout the negotiations. Nevertheless, we would have expected the Minister to ensure that we had an opportunity to scrutinise the revised text before it was adopted on 14 February. In his letter of 7 February, he certainly appeared to give this undertaking.

  18.6  We comment on the failure of scrutiny on this and other proposals in the package in our conclusion on the Framework Directive in paragraph 15 of this Report.

  18.7  We clear the document.

40  (23027) 14838/01; see HC 152-xix (2001-02), paragraph 8 (13 February 2002). Back

41  (23262) 6297/02; see paragraph 15 of this Report. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 22 April 2002