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Will the European Parliament take its last chance to save citizens' rights?

Brussels, Sept 30th - The European Parliament decided on Sept. 28th that it would not attempt to fix the provisions endangering Net neutrality in the "Telecoms Package"1. Only "amendment 138"2, which protects citizens against restriction of their fundamental rights, will be negotiated during the conciliation procedure3 that is just about to start. In the upcoming meetings, either the rapporteur Trautmann will have the courage to stand in order to defend people's rights to access the Net, or the Parliament will just bow before the Council and give up European citizens' freedoms.

The first meeting of the Parliament conciliation delegation on the Telecoms Package took place on Monday evening. Rapporteurs Malcolm Harbour and Catherine Trautmann chose not to listen to the millions of citizens represented by the signatories of the open letter "We must save Net neutrality in Europe!"4 (among which ISOC Europe, Reporters without Borders, the Free Software Foundation and major consumer groups). They decided not to rework the provisions that let telecoms operators block or limit what users do with their Internet access, thus leaving the door open for practices that could kill Net neutrality in Europe5.

In spite of the Green group's push for new discussions on the Harbour provisions suggested by the operator AT&T in second reading, the consensus among the European Parliament representatives was to only renegotiate "amendment 138". As a consequence, the only point of disagreement between the Parliament and the Council is the ultimate safeguard for citizens' fundamental rights and freedoms in the Telecoms Package. It provides that "no restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights and freedoms of end-users, without a prior ruling by the judicial authorities.". This amendment could protect citizens against restrictions of their Internet access, which would serve as a useful counterweight for the anti-Net neutrality articles of the Harbour report.

Amendment 138, voted on two occasions by 88% of the Parliament, acknowledged that the Internet access is now an essential tool for exerting fundamental rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of expression and communication. In France, the constitutional court confirmed such a statement a few weeks later. However, the Council of the European Union completely deleted amendment 138 in its first reading, and tried to neutralize it in second reading by removing its central and essential notion of "prior ruling". Now, as the final negotiations take place, Rapporteur Catherine Trautmann is the only one able to maintain the strong position of the European Parliament against the Council.

"In our societies, access to the Internet is so instrumental to people's ability to communicate with each other that restricting or limiting this access cannot be decided by a company or even an executive agency. Only a fair trial by the judicial authority guarantees that citizens' rights will be respected. It is now Catherine Trautmann's duty to ensure that amendment 138 will protect citizens against the arbitrary blocking or limiting of their Internet access." concludes Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for the citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net.