The EU’s telcos are suddenly running for the hills after being hit with two barrels this week by the European Commission. First Competition commissioner Neelie Kroes responsed to a question from a MEP about whether she thought it would be a good idea to have a sector inquiry in telecoms, and said yes; and now Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for Information, Society and Media, has suggested the creation of an independent EU telecoms regulator to work with the national regulators in the member states to ensure EU rules are applied consistently in all members states.

And she didn’t stop there. Whilst claiming that the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications has been one of the great success stories of EU liberalisation, and that the commission would look to phase out sector specific ex-ante regulation in a number of markets, she also said that the EU must avoid taking a step backwards and consenting to ‘regulatory holidays’ to allow old incumbents to build and operate new markets and / or next generation networks. In particular she highlight the Commission’s opposition to the approach being followed by the new German telecoms law which would allow Deutsche Telekom such ‘regulatory holidays’. One suggestion Reding is keen to put forward is an eu policy option of structural separation, possibly along the lines of that being followed in the UK with BT.

Reding also called for a more co-ordinated approach to spectrum management and suggested letting market forces dictate future spectrum management co-ordinated by a new light-touch European spectrum agency. The Comments, which are based on a communication that the Commission hopes to adopt next week, came in a talk on the forthcoming review of EU Telecoms rules at the annual BITKOM meeting in Brussels. The Commission will consult on the communication in the coming weeks and will then present firm legislative proposals by the end of 2006.