Early April was a time of celebratory headlines, and for seemingly good reason: the MEPs in the European Parliament had passed a bill enshrining net neutrality in European law. According to the triumphant reporting, it seemed like we could at last relax, whilst throwing sympathetic glances at our friends in the US facing similar struggles. In truth, our celebrations were premature.
The EU is a bicameral legislature: bills must be passed by both of the EU’s legislative bodies before they can become law. We’re only half way there. The bill will now be scrutinised by the Council of the European Union—which, as Wikipedia helpfully reminds us, should not be confused with the European Council, or indeed the Council of Europe: grokking the institutions of Europe is hard!
The council comprises ministers of the member states of the EU. They can either pass the bill as is, or otherwise make amendments, beginning a process of back-and-forth that concludes when a version is reached that is satisfactory to both member governments and MEPs. (A handy infographic explaining the legislative process can be found here.)
This process will inevitably apply to the telecommunications bill. Here in the UK, the government is not happy with the bill’s current form; they are going to demand changes. Now, here’s the rub: we’re about to go to the polls and elect new MEPs. When the amended bill winds its way back to the European Parliament, the amendments will be voted on by a quite different set of parliamentarians from the one which put forward the original proposals.
So, as you go to the polls over the next few days, I would ask you to be cognisant of the position of your local parties and candidates on net neutrality: we need to return MEPs who will continue their predecessors’ work and seal the deal! (You might find the awesome site VoteWatch.eu helpful for checking which way the incumbents voted.)