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Euro Commission drags Belgium to court over telco regulator's independence

Ministerial veto must be, er, vetoed, Eurocrats demand

The European Commission is taking Belgium to court for not allowing its telco regulator enough independence.

Under EU law, national telecoms regulators must be able to act independently without state interference, but Belgium has a law allowing the Belgian Council of Ministers to suspend the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications (BIPT)'s decisions under certain circumstances.

The Commission asked Belgium to change its law in April, but since nothing has happened – possibly because Belgium is not in the habit of having a domestic government for very long – the Commissioner has decided to take its case to the European Court of Justice.

Not only can Belgium's Council of Ministers veto the telecoms regulator's decisions, the BIPT must also go cap in hand to ministers for approval of its multi-annual strategy.

Since BIPT is responsible for ensuring competition in the market and resolving disputes between operators, the Commission believes that this lack of independence, could have serious negative consequences telecoms competition in Belgium.

Of course this case could be the thin end of the wedge. The Commission also announced that it was taking Luxembourg to court as well for “persistent delays” in analysing the markets for fixed access to the public telephone network and leased lines.

“The consequence of not carrying out timely analysis of the relevant markets is that regulation may be imposed when it is no longer needed, which would lead to negative consequences for investment, for innovation, and for competition,” said the Commission.

EU law requires national regulators to conduct a market analysis at least every three years. Luxembourg’s last analysis was in 2007. ®

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