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Telecoms package prob must be sorted or snuffed out in 8 weeks

European Parliament obliged to get a shift on with reform

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The European Parliament has until the end of the year to agree a new telecoms reform deal with the EU's Council of Ministers. It will announce Thursday the start date for negotiations which can take no longer than eight weeks.

Parliament and Council representatives must agree a compromise by December that must be ratified by their organisations by February otherwise the whole Telecoms Package will be scrapped, according to a European Parliament spokeswoman.

The Council and Parliament are in disagreement over a clause in a Commission-proposed reform package for telecoms regulation which would stop internet users being cut off for alleged file-sharing without a court's authority.

The dispute derailed the ratification of the Telecoms Package before summer and negotiation is about to start over a compromise deal. Unless that single clause is agreed the whole reform programme will be discarded.

A Conciliation Committee will be formed and will comprise 27 MEPs and 27 Council representatives, one on each side from every EU member state. Once it begins negotiation on a proposed text it has just eight weeks to reach agreement.

A spokeswoman for the European Parliament said that it would announce the exact date for negotiations to start Thursday, but that the date would be in early November.

"That means they will have to agree by the end of the year," she said. "They can have as many meetings as they like, but it can only take six to eight weeks."

Any text agreed by the Conciliation Committee will have to be passed both by the Parliament and the full Council of Ministers. This, too, must happen within eight weeks.

The EU governing bodies will once again have to accept or reject the whole Telecoms Package, they cannot reject one clause and adopt the rest, said the spokeswoman. "And if it is rejected early next year then the Commission will have to start again from zero," she said.

The disputed amendment would stop countries passing laws that allow for the disconnection of internet users suspected of engaging in illegal file sharing without court oversight.

"No restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights and freedoms of end users without a prior ruling by the judicial authorities … save when public security is threatened," said the amendment.

Both the European Consumers' Organisation (Beuc) and the European Internet Service Providers' Association (Eurispa) have called in recent days for the Parliament to hold firm in protecting the rights of internet users not to be disconnected without judicial oversight.

"Citizens should not be cut off from [the] internet without a fair trial," said Beuc director general Willemien Bax. "Consumers must not be treated as pirates or criminals. We are in the 21st century and such draconian measures have no place in an open society. People have rights that cannot and must not be overlooked for the sake of the music and film industry."

Eurispa also backed the original amendment. "We believe that unrestricted access to the internet is an integral part of Fundamental Freedoms, providing a secure business environment and protecting citizens’ civil liberties," said a Eurispa statement. "Any restriction of an individual to those rights should only be taken following a prior judicial ruling. Only a court can guarantee a proportionate, balanced decision, respectful of the Fundamental Rights of Information, Privacy and Communication."

The Parliament spokeswoman confirmed that the disputed clause is the only part of the Telecoms Package that is being renegotiated.

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