The European Commission's proposal for a pan-European telecommunications super-regulator was widely derided at a major seminar in Westminster on Thursday.
Delegates at the Westminster eForum consultation seminar on the EU telecommunications review — consultation on which is due to close in a week's time — were almost unanimous in their condemnation of the suggestion.
Many, though, also acknowledged flaws in the current system.
"The current framework has certainly not created a common regime across EU member states," said Carphone Warehouse's head of telecoms regulation, Rickard Granberg, who complained that the differing pace of regulation and fragmentation of remedies between member states "does create difficulties and obstacles for a fixed telecommunications operator wanting to enter the market".
However, Granberg said that "on balance" his company disagreed that one regulator would be the answer. "We need a swifter and more detailed enforcement of existing rules," he explained, adding that this could "only be done by national regulators".
That view was echoed by Professor Peter Humphreys, director of the European Policy Research Unit at the University of Manchester, who suggested that national regulators knew their individual markets best.
Humphreys argued that the option of a single EU regulator, independent of the European Commission, was "not politically saleable", and claimed that the alternative — extending the Commission's power of veto to cover remedies imposed by national regulators — would lead to greater consistency.
"It seems quite sensible for the Commission to propose… a moderate power of veto," said Humphreys. "This does not mean a one-size-fits-all approach [but] I don't think the Commission is thinking this way. There should be every expectation that the Commission should continue to act in the restrained way it has so far," he continued, adding that the EC had thus far been "an honest broker", relying heavily on consultation and aiming predominantly for a "consensual approach".
BT's representative at the event, director of European affairs Stephen Crisp, also supported the extension of the veto to cover remedies, but added that BT was "not ideological about vetoes" and "[suspects] a European regulator is not the right answer".
Crisp also said that BT was "opposed to [the Commission's favouring of] structural separation" between incumbents' service and wholesale departments — a fate that has already befallen BT itself, which had to create the Openreach services spin-off at the insistence of Ofcom.
Ofcom's director of international, Alex Blowers, said he was "surprised" that there had been "a degree of support from certain players in the industry" for the idea that the EC should be able to veto remedies imposed by national regulators.
"There is a legitimate concern [that] in a number of member states it looks like regulation has been dilatory and half-hearted, but it is not a legitimate concern that can be [solved] by a veto on remedies," Blowers told the audience. While conceding that there would always be problems with a consistent quality of regulation across 25 member states, he suggested the solution was to get regulators "to work more efficiently between each other".
"We believe there is an argument for greater coherence and consistency of regulation [but] national market difference needs to be reflected," he elaborated.