Back to the roots: the 1987 telecom green paper 25 years after – has European telecom liberalization fulfilled its promise for Europe in the internet age?

Herbert Ungerer (Independent Policy Analyst and was Formerly Deputy Director General at European Commission, Brussels, Belgium)


ISSN: 1463-6697

Publication date: 1 March 2013



The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that telecommunications liberalization in Europe has taken the European telecommunications and internet sectors a breathtaking leap forward. To counter the leveling off of growth and facing the smartphone revolution, new structural changes are now required.


The paper assesses in a concise manner the effect of telecommunications liberalization in Europe based on the 1987 green paper. It demonstrates the enormous dynamics created in the mobile and fixed network sectors and the key role of liberalization to make Europe internet‐ready during the 1990s. The paper then proceeds to the analysis of the leveling off of growth during the last few years and discusses required changes to restart dynamics.


The green paper of 1987 successfully defined a framework within which political and legal action in both regulatory and competition fields could develop, leading to full liberalization of telecommunications in the European Union by 1998. The subsequent decade saw an enormous expansion of both mobile and fixed services, which only abated by the end of the decade. Liberalization and coordination of licensing of mobile systems were the basis for the entry of the internet in Europe and the explosive growth of GSM mobile services. The paper finds that the deployment of broadband internet and fourth generation mobile now needs further change to relaunch dynamics. It welcomes the goals of the digital agenda for Europe in the context of the 2020 objectives of the European Union, but argues that deeper structural changes are needed to achieve these goals.


Liberalization of European telecommunications was guided by a strategic framework set out in the 1987 telecommunications green paper and developed subsequently further. Comprehensive frameworks of this nature will be needed if Europe wants to gain a leading role in the future smart phone and broadband internet markets.



Ungerer, H. (2013), "Back to the roots: the 1987 telecom green paper 25 years after – has European telecom liberalization fulfilled its promise for Europe in the internet age?", info, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 14-24.

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