EU says no to increased powers for ITU at WCIT conference

European Commission officials have revealed the EU's negotiating position for the WCIT, dismissing reports that they had been sidelined

The European Commission has set out its negotiating position for next week's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), while an official dismissed as ridiculous reports that the Commission had been pushed out of the negotiations on new International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR).

According to a report on Belgian news site Euractiv, European Union member states "elbowed the Commission out of a representative role" at the WCIT, which starts in Dubai on Monday. The conference will bring together more than 190 governments as well as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and will attempt to revise global rules for governing telecoms and the Internet which have not been updated since 1988.

The decision to give the Commission a secondary observer role was agreed by the E.U.'s Foreign Affairs Council on Thursday, said Euractiv, adding that the ministers agreed a joint position for the member states to approve individually.

However, a Commission official said on Friday that it was not true that the Commission had been sidelined, pointing out that it was the Commission that wrote the E.U.'s negotiating position for the conference. "It's true we don't sign things or speak, but that's not because the member states pushed us out of the way, that's because that's how the ITU works," said the official.

On Friday, the Commission revealed the E.U.'s common position for the conference, at which only national governments may vote.

The E.U.'s position is to minimize the effects of decisions taken at WCIT. It undertakes "to support proposals that seek to ensure that the revised treaty remains technology neutral and to oppose proposals to make ITU recommendations binding."

Following proposals from other countries, the E.U. position seeks to prevent any increase in the scope of the current regulations, or any increase in the responsibilities exercised by the ITU. This comes after many organizations suggested that the ITU was attempted to grab control over the Internet.

The E.U. vowed to protect privacy and personal data and to support pro-competitive measures and greater transparency on prices.

"The success of the 1988 ITR Treaty lay in the fact that it was primarily a set of high-level principles which facilitated international telecommunications rather than detailed regulations," said Commission spokesman on the digital agenda Ryan Heath in a statement.

"Some non-E.U. countries have tabled proposals for a significant increase in the scope of the treaty and the regulatory burden on operators, including internet service providers. The E.U. believes that there is no justification for such proposals and is concerned about the potentially negative impact on innovation and costs, both for operator and end-users," said Heath.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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