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Single EU telecoms market edges closer to reality

Compromise deal just days away

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The plan to build a single European market for telecoms and Internet services has edged closer to reality with the European Parliament welcoming last-minute changes by member states to new laws.

Parliament will vote on the revised legislation tomorrow and it will then be sent back to all individual countries for final approval.

The dream of running a EU-wide set of regulations for the telecoms market has been tied up for a year now as the member states have refused to allow the EU to take precedence over their home regulators.

Continued argument and concessions on both sides have finally come up with laws that allow for standardised markets across Europe - with all the economies of scale and efficiencies that that implies - but enable individual countries in most situations to decide how to regulate their home industry.

The EU will still retain a veto when trade between member states is affected by one telecoms company's approach.

The deal is far from being completed however. It has stopped short of imposing a common standard for digital TV - which many within Parliament were keen on - although countries and companies are likely to adopt the heavily recommended MHP (Multimedia Home Platform) standard. The European Commission also wanted to put controls on the emerging 3G market.

If Parliament and member states can't agree this time, the whole package will be sent to a committee to sort out the differences - an action which many fear could lose the hard-fought-for compromises in the existing deal.

One of the main figures behind the legislation, Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society, Erkki Liikanen told the FT: "This is a major step form detailed ex-ante regulations to pro-competitive measures. And it is the most concrete case of simplication since it brings 20 pieces of legislation down to six."

Liikanen has been working on greater EU integration for several years. He was the driving force behind unbundling the local loop across Europe - something that has opened up Internet access across Europe far faster than it we had relied on market competition. ®

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