On 3 February 2014, the European Commission adopted a formal Decision establishing a group of national regulators in the broadcasting area: “the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services”.
To some extent, the Decision thus formalises the Group of European Regulators which has been meeting informally on an annual basis at the invitation of the European Commission since 2003. The main objectives for the Group are as follows:
Strengthening the cooperation between regulatory authorities in the field of broadcasting in the EU has been a recurring motive in recent policy recommendations.
In January 2013, the report of the High Level Group (HLG) on Media Freedom and Pluralism had evidenced the need for a separate debate regarding the independence of audiovisual regulatory bodies, by stating in Recommendation 6, that “A network of national audio-visual regulatory authorities should be created, on the model of the one created by the electronic communications framework...(to) help (…) sharing common good practices and set quality standards."
The European research project MEDIADEM, which investigated policy approaches and regulatory instruments that govern the media in 12 EU Member States, also recommended strengthening of the cooperation between European regulators as well as more coordination with BEREC and the European Commission’s Contact Committee.
On 22 March 2013, drawing up on the conclusions of the INDIREG study of 2011, the Commission launched a public consultation on independence of audiovisual regulatory bodies, with the aim to enquire whether independence could be better ensured if Article 30 of the AVMS Directive were revised. The great majority of responses, which showed an overwhelming support for independent NRAs, were also in favour of a voluntary strengthening of the cooperation between regulators, while 50% considered that a mandatory or formalized framework was necessary.
On 21 May 2013, the European Parliament Resolution on standard settings for media freedom across the EU called on national regulatory authorities to "cooperate and coordinate at EU level on media matters, for instance by establishing a European Regulators’ Association for audiovisual media services (…);"
Even though they refrained mentioning any revision of Art. 30, the European Council conclusions of November 2013 invited Member States to ensure the independence of their audiovisual regulatory bodies and the Commission to strengthen - "through non-legislative actions" - cooperation between regulatory authorities in the field of audiovisual media services.
The formal group of EU Regulatory Authorities in the field of Audiovisual Media Services will coexist with other cooperation networks whose objectives and mode of functioning are complementary, the largest of them being the EPRA.
EPRA will retain its specificity and added-value as an informal and independent platform for cooperation with its unique geographical coverage and practical and pragmatic orientation.
The regulators’ group is planning to hold its meetings mainly in Brussels, where they will be hosted by the European Commission, whereas EPRA meetings will continue to be organised by NRAs on a rotating and voluntary basis.
The level of representation of the new group will be high/executive level, whereas EPRA remains flexible about the composition of the delegations.
The new group will have strategic EU policy-oriented discussions and intends to adopt common positions or declarations on the implementation of the audiovisual EU regulatory framework, whereas EPRA will continue holding practically-oriented exchanges of experiences and identifying best practices on media regulation in Europe. EPRA’s engagement with stakeholders will also remain informal.
EPRA Chairman Jean-François Furnémont has welcomed the wish to reinforce the cooperation between European counterparts as expressed by the creation of this formal group and emphasized the numerous ways in which both networks may complement each other.
The group will also complement the work of the Contact Committee, which is composed of representatives of Member States, and was established by Article 29 AVMSD.