EU telecoms ministers back watered-down legal reforms

Plans to reform Europe's legal landscape for the telecoms industry remain on track, after nearly being derailed at a tense meeting of government ministers Thursday.

Failure by the 27 telecoms ministers to reach an agreed position would have extinguished any hope of the laws coming into effect next year as hoped, leaving the industry in a state of prolonged legal limbo.

The U.K., Sweden and the Netherlands abstained on grounds that the agreed changes weren't ambitious enough, but no country opposed the compromise package tabled by France, holder of the six-month rotating presidency of the E.U.

Telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding saw many of her planned reforms watered down. These include the creation of an E.U.-wide regulatory authority, and Europe-wide coordination of the distribution of radio spectrum freed up by the migration to digital TV from analog broadcasting.

The ministers did support the Commission plan to arm national telecoms regulators with the threat of "functional separation" if their former state monopolies fail to compete fairly with rivals. So did the European Parliament.

Reding welcomed the agreement reached Thursday, applauding French telecoms minister Luc Chatel "for having resolved this crisis."