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Brussels targets telecoms

BRUSSELS criticized Slovakia and nine other new EU member states for failing to implement European legislation regulating the telecommunications market. Slovakia has two months to comply before the case is forwarded to the European Court of Justice.

BRUSSELS criticized Slovakia and nine other new EU member states for failing to implement European legislation regulating the telecommunications market. Slovakia has two months to comply before the case is forwarded to the European Court of Justice.

The Telecommunication Ministry received an official letter from the European Commission containing two complaints. Brussels released four complaints, however, to the media. The ministry is waiting for the other letter containing the remaining two complaints to arrive.

"Brussels surprised us by releasing the information to the media before our ministry was officially informed," Milan Herman, director of the ministry's telecommunication's department, told The Slovak Spectator.

The letter received by the ministry states that the country's current telecommunications law is outside the EU norms designed to protect against privacy infringements, such as electronic advertisements (spam). It also warns that Slovakia's market environment is not accessible enough to alternative network operators.

According to the ministry, Brussels' criticisms do not suggest that the current market environment is restricting competition or that customer protection is limited.

According to the information released to the media (but which has not yet reached the ministry), the European Commission has the following complaints: a second Slovak telecom market regulation body, the Telecommunications Office (TÚ), is not independent enough from the government and it lacks important competencies; and the administrative processes of the Telecommunications Ministry are unclear and confusing.

"We are expecting this other letter to arrive soon and are curious about the details," said Herman.

The Ministry has two months to comply with EU regulations or at least provide Brussels with sufficient information. If the ministry fails to respond, the case will go to the European Court of Justice.

The chairman of the Association of Telecommunication Operators (ATO), Vladimír Ondrovič, was not surprised by the latest developments. "The motion started against the Slovak Republic is proof that the warnings of the ATO were well-founded. It shows that the Telecommunications Ministry's statement that the ATO is anxious for no reason was unsubstantiated," Ondrovič wrote in a press release.

The TÚ said it would react to the situation once the official warning letter is received by the ministry.

Ondrovič expressed his hopes that the ministry will act fast and implement all the necessary EU norms. He warned that if the case is forwarded to the European Court of Justice, it could have serious implications on the Slovak economy and dip into public finances "that are already in shortage".

Herman is confident that the case would not go as far as the European Court of Justice. "We are discussing the issues very intensely with Brussels," he said. He said that it would not make sense to copy the EU legislation word-for-word because adjustments specific to the Slovak telecommunications market must be made.

Herman admitted that he has no personal experience in dealing with cases at the European Court of Justice. "This will not happen. We are here to make sure it won't come to that," he said.

The Telecommunications Ministry insists that Slovakia is actually performing very well considering that the country has been a member of the EU for only a year. "We were lucky that our [telecommunications] legislation amendments were relatively new," Herman told The Slovak Spectator . He explained that was why Slovakia was included within Brussels's first evaluation wave. The ministry expects the second wave will bring similar results.

ATO Chairman Ondrovič concluded that Slovakia's main problem isn't the legislation but effectively implementing existing standards.

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