A committee for the European Parliament has stopped short of calling for a ban on unsolicited commercial email, commonly known as spam, voting instead to support an 'opt-out' option favoured by many direct marketers in the UK.

The EU Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs Committee voted on a directive stating that it should be legal for companies to send spam by email or SMS (short message service) mobile text messages, as long as the solicitation comes with an address that allows recipients to request that they be removed from the mailing list.

The committee's recommendation next goes before the entire European Parliament where it will be debated before the plenary session votes in September, according to a spokeswoman.

The committee had been considering an 'opt-in' spam policy that had been proposed by the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, requiring marketers that use email to target consumers to gain permission before sending them spam or SMS messages.

"Yes, the Parliament took a less stringent view than the Commission on spam," the spokeswoman said.

It was a move hailed on Friday as a "good vote" for small and medium-size businesses (SMEs) in Europe by Axel Tandberg, director of government affairs for the Federation of European Direct Marketing or FEDMA, and as a "loss for consumers," by Joe McNamee, EU affairs spokesman for EuroISPA, a group that represents Europe's internet service providers.

The current approach to spam is fragmented across Europe, with individual countries devising their own policies.

Finland, Denmark, Germany, Austria and Italy - have passed opt-in regulation on spam and were pushing for the EC to adopt a pan-European anti-spam law.

Britain, meanwhile, supports unsolicited email as a legitimate marketing tool. Infact Michael Cashman, the Labour MEP for the West Midlands - who also sits on the Citizens' Rights and Freedoms committee - has successfully lobbied in support of the opt-out position.

Consumers can still contact their MEPs (Member of European Parliament) to say that they favour anti-spam, opt-in legislation, according to McNamee. But he warned it would be hard to overcome the lobbying pressure from marketing groups.

"MEPs know already what the consumers' position on spam is, they've received anti-spam petitions, but when it comes to lobbying against spam here in Brussels, I've been pretty much on my own," McNamee said.