Leiden Law Blog

The Law on Harmful Interference – an International Regime Transposed in Europe to Evolve

The Law on Harmful Interference – an International Regime Transposed in Europe to Evolve

The problem of Harmful Interference (HI) to wave signals used for radio or satellite communications is becoming increasingly common and of greater importance for the sustainable development and operations of the industry. As such, the issue is directly interlinked and dependent on legislation for the efficient and effective management of the electromagnetic/radio frequency spectrum.

On an International level, HI is regulated under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union. The ITU Constitution, Convention and Radio Regulations have the character of binding international treaties, subject to revisions every 4-5 years at World Radio Communications Conferences.

All EU member states are signatories to the ITU Radio Regulations and are thus bound by them. At the same time, increased exclusive or shared EU competencies in the field create the potential for non-compliance with EU law.  One way in which Member States have tackled this possible conflict is by inserting a reservation into the WRC final acts. A more functional approach, however, involves the creation of the Radio Spectrum Policy Program with specific provisions on EU interaction with the ITU and the EU’s Commission’s participation at WRCs as an observer.

The general predispositions and definitions pertaining to HI that were used at an EU level generally mirrored the respective provisions put forward by the ITU. They now, however, go a step further. Simultaneously, the two regimes continue to have a dynamic interaction. Regulation and management of the spectrum is no longer the realm of engineers and technicians, but is increasingly dominated by policy makers. When allocating frequencies and updating the Radio Regulations, the ITU was expected to interact only with Member States. Now it is increasingly having to consider EU objectives and stances.

It is important to examine how the International and the European regimes pertaining to Harmful Interference interact with each other. While the ITU will remain the sole authority for distributing and managing frequencies, increased EU competencies in the field are also affecting ITU’s policies. This influence has been mostly indirect during WRC 12, but is expected to be greater in the next WRC 15, scheduled for November.

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