In his capacity as Minister of Communications and Media, the Prime Minister Xavier Bettel presented the priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency in the field of telecommunications to the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE ) of the European Parliament meeting in Brussels on 15 July 2015.
The Minister began by recalling the huge "potential" of digital technology and the priority of the Presidency in that regard: "to make the internal market more dynamic through digital technology" in order to "contribute to the economic growth of our continent".
Xavier Bettel then added that digital technology is a "facilitator which permeates every area of activity", thereby ensuring that the Luxembourg Presidency "will promote initiatives, horizontal or targeted, to achieve a genuine internal digital market", in relation to which the European Commission presented its strategy on 6 May 2015.
To unlock the potential of the digital economy, "existing barriers and continuing restrictions in the internal market must be removed", said Xavier Bettel. He believes that it is "unacceptable" that the fragmentation of the internal market in 28 national "mini markets" is still visible today, with "the first victims" being European consumers and start-ups. According to the Minister, barriers to cross-border digital trade must be removed to enable "European companies to become real digital champions capable of competing on a global scale".
The Luxembourg Presidency will also encourage an approach based on the digital by default principle, stated Xavier Bettel. This principle will ensure that EU legislation really does provide good solutions for exploiting new technologies and for helping the European digital economy take off.
The Presidency also seeks to "monitor the strategy to create a single digital market, while awaiting concrete legislative proposals" which are planned for 2016. In this context, the Presidency is planning a political debate at the Telecommunications Council of 10 December 2015 on the future reform of the Telecoms Package, expected mid-2016, stated Xavier Bettel.
A number of events will also be held under the Luxembourg Presidency. These meetings will address digital technology across the board. The "big data" component will therefore be discussed in relation to personalised medicine; a conference will be held on smart technology in the field of energy; the "European Data Forum" on 16 and 17 November 2015 will address innovation, big data and digital economy; and a conference on eGovernment will be organised.
Over the next six months, the focus will also be on digital skills (eSkills); an "issue which concerns all Member States and affects growth, potential for innovation and social cohesion", stated Xavier Bettel. In this regard, two events will be organised: first, the "Investing in People" Conference will be held on 10 and 11 November in Luxembourg and, second, a "Digital Skills and Digital Learning" Conference will be held on 15 December.
Lastly, it is necessary to create "favourable conditions in order to "scale-up" companies, especially start-ups, within the Union". According to the Minister, it is also a question of removing barriers to cross-border activities because the cost of compliance with 28 regulatory frameworks "weighs heavily on businesses".
Several legislative issues are also on the agenda of the Presidency for the next six months.
As regards the TSM (Telecoms Single Market) Package, which provides for the abolition of roaming charges in June 2017 and strict rules on internet neutrality, Xavier Bettel announced that the agreement reached by the Latvia Presidency on 30 June 2015 will be formally adopted by the September Council.
Another priority legislative issue concerns the Network and Information Security Directive, in relation to which the Commission submitted a proposal in February 2013. Xavier Bettel made it clear that cybersecurity was "not negotiable" and was "not a luxury". "We are confident that Europe can set an example in terms of cybersecurity", added the Minister. The Luxembourg Presidency will seek to reach an agreement on this directive during its term, he stated.
In the field of eGovernment, the "ISA squared" dossier (Interoperability Solutions for European Public Administrations), intended to facilitate the use of interoperability solutions between public administrations, will be a focus of the Presidency. In addition, the European Commission submitted a proposal in that regard on 24 June 2014. The Minister announced that a trilogue meeting will be held immediately after the summer break which he hopes will be "quickly brought to a conclusion so as to ensure the continuity of the current ISA programme".
Another legislative issue on which the Presidency will focus relates to the accessibility of the public sector bodies' websites. This Directive proposed in December 2012, will allow active participation and greater inclusion of all citizens in the digital economy, including citizens with disabilities. The Luxembourg Presidency intends to make significant progress on this issue and aims to finalise it, stated the Minister.
Lastly, the Presidency will also seek to finalise the reform of data protection rules. It is now necessary "to adapt existing rules that date back to 1995 when the Internet was still in its infancy", observed Xavier Bettel.
Questions from MEPs
In response to comments from the Luxembourg MEP Claude Turmes, who highlighted the need to regulate the Internet, Xavier Bettel stressed that it remains necessary to "make progress whilst regulating the Internet". "The Internet knows no borders, we must regulate it in order to prevent dominant positions from crushing us", he added, whilst conceding that the regulation will be easier to draft in respect of large companies than for SMEs'. Too much regulation could "prevent start-ups from growing", added Xavier Bettel.
On the issue of geo-blocking, while the Minister has not endorsed a total ban on live videos, he stated that it is necessary to find solutions to limit copyright protection for replay videos, since loyalties have already been paid to the provider.
So far as concerns the Cybersecurity Strategy, the Minister stated that it should not only "fall within the competence of intelligence services" but that it should be a "horizontal competence". He believes that "prevention is better than cure".