Select Committee on European Communities Twelfth Report


Letter from Richard Page, MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Small Business, Industry and Energy, Department of Trade and Industry, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee


  In my letter of 6 December[1] I promised to keep you informed about progress in the negotiations on this Directive.

  There has been an important development. You may recall that at the Telecommunications Council meeting on 28 November a French/German compromise for the second stage of liberalisation, that would have delayed a decision on the second stage of liberalisation until 2001 with implementation in 2003 at the earliest, was rejected following opposition from a number of Member States, including the UK, and the Commission. France did not let this rest and raised the matter at the Dublin European Council. The Council's asked the Telecommunications Council to take a decision by the end of the year and a meeting was hastily arranged for 18 December. My Private Secretary spoke to your Clerk to warn your Committee of this latest development.

  Events have moved very fast and political agreement was reached at the Council yesterday. The agreed text will go now to a future Council as an "A" point. From the Government's view point the outcome was disappointing - we would have preferred a commitment to specific further liberalisation from a predetermined date. We made strong efforts, however, that proved successful and we secured some significant improvements on the Franco/German text, for which there seemed to be a qualified majority and which the Commission said they would accept as a last resort. The main features of the agreement are:

    -    direct mail and cross-border mail stay in the reserved area for the time being;

    -    the Commission to come forward with a proposal for further liberalisation by end 1998 with decisions to be made by the Council and European Parliament by 1 January 2000. The text implies that the objective is the further liberalisation of both direct mail and cross-border mail, plus a review of the price and weight limits, to take effect from 1 January 2003. Developments, in particular economic, social and technological, and the financial equilibrium of the universal service providers will be taken into account;

    -    there is a clause to end the Directive in 2004 if no decisions are taken. This will apply pressure on the Council and Parliament to reach decisions.

  The Directive has still to be cleared by the House of Commons European Legislation Select Committee: I have maintained the UK Parliamentary scrutiny reserve. Now that the substantive issue has been resolved we hope that the Council's proposals can be finalised and accepted by the European Parliament so that we can move to early adoption of the Directive.

  We shall continue to keep you informed of developments.

20 December 1996

1  Printed in Correspondence with Ministers, 5th Report, Session 1996-97, p. 43. Back

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