Monday

28th May 2018

Analysis

Roaming exceptions are necessary evil in imperfect EU

  • Commission: 'If you buy a SIM card in another member state with lower prices and you use it permanently in your member state, you are not roaming anymore' (Photo: Matteo Garza)

The centre-left socialist group in the European Parliament on Tuesday (6 September) appeared to accuse the European Commission on reneging on its promise to abolish mobile roaming surcharges.

In a message sent out a social media, they called a commission proposal, saying that roaming will be limited to 90 days a year, “complete nonsense”.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The truth however is somewhat more nuanced.

What happened?

In June 2015, EU officials from the commission, parliament, and member states, announced that they had reached a deal that would end roaming fees, something which they had promised years before.

However, the deal also included the possibility for telecommunications operators to introduce “fair use policies”, to prevent people from abusing the roam-like-at-home principle. Those consumers that go beyond a mobile subscription's fair use, could face additional costs.

On Monday, the commission published a proposal that contained the details of what such policies may look like.

“What we have done is fix some rules to avoid abuses,” commission spokeswoman Nathalie Vandystadt told journalists on Tuesday. The rules theoretically can still be vetoed by the EU parliament or member states.

She explained that 90 days is the “minimum … during which users fully benefit from the end of roaming charges”.

Consumers that use roaming beyond that period may face additional costs, which critics call roaming by another name.

But commission deputy chief spokesman Alexander Winterstein was quick to say the EU had fulfilled its promise on roaming.

“What we have promised is that when we travel across borders, they can take their phone with them and as of June next year they will not pay roaming fees anymore. This is a key message and this is what we have delivered, and this is what counts,” Winterstein said.

The GSM Association, the pan-European organisation set up in the 1980s to create standards for mobile communication, never defined roaming as having a limited duration.

But for the commission, it is understandable why it would want to make that distinction.

With the end of roaming fees a tangible example of the benefits of the EU, the commission is, not surprisingly, eager to hail it as a success story.

And as Vandystadt noted, most Europeans do not travel abroad to other EU countries for more than 90 days a year - or even half of that.

“Operators are not obliged to impose this 90 days minimum. They can offer unlimited packages including roaming,” Vandystadt added.

But some operators may not want to offer unlimited roaming, out of fear of going out of business.

The problem which the 90-days clause aims to address, goes far beyond the simple frame of whether the EU broke a political promise.

Digital single market?

It showed that the EU is still very far from a digital single market.

When you buy a book in another EU country, your one-time purchase does not greatly affect the local economy. But when you buy a mobile phone subscription in another EU country with the idea of using it in your home country, you may have a more lasting effect.

The text accompanying the fair use rules noted that there are “different pricing and consumption patterns” across EU member states.

“In such cases, the incentive to use very large volumes of traffic at domestic price levels while roaming on a permanent basis may increase, as the price differential vis-à-vis limited domestic offers may turn out to be greater than average.”

Put simply, citizens living in a rich member state may choose to buy a SIM card in a member state where the cost of products is much lower.

Let's take, as an example, Lithuania and the United Kingdom. According to Eurostat, communication is most expensive in the UK, and cheapest in Lithuania.

If substantial numbers of British consumers were all to buy SIM cards in much smaller Lithuania, and then go home to the UK demanding to use the cheaper subscription plan there, the mobile operators in Lithuania may decide to increase their prices, which would mostly affect Lithuanians.

European integration

It is one of the key challenges in European integration.

Politicians have started opening up markets for all EU citizens, before differences between the economies of EU member states and purchasing power have dissolved.

The option for mobile operators to apply an exception to the roaming ban, is a way to protect businesses in EU member states with lower purchase power.

It is not “complete nonsense”, but an unavoidable stopgap for the much bigger, systemic tasks policymakers face during the messy process of European integration.

No more roaming charges in EU

Major telecoms operators across all 28 EU states have scrapped roaming fees on data, text messages, and calls, as of Thursday (15 June).

Are EU data watchdogs staffed for GDPR?

The success of the new general data protection regulation (GDPR) will depend on whether data protection authorities enforce the new rules - which, in turn, will be at least partly determined by how many people they employ.

Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline

The EU starts enforcing its general data protection regulation on 25 May - but Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia won't be ready. The delay will cause legal uncertainty.

News in Brief

  1. Italy set to pick eurosceptic finance minister
  2. UK foreign minister fooled by Russian pranksters
  3. Rajoy ally gets 33 years in jail for corruption
  4. Close race as polls open in Irish abortion referendum
  5. Gazprom accepts EU conditions on gas supplies
  6. Facebook tells MEPs: non-users are not profiled
  7. Commission proposes ending France deficit procedure
  8. UK households hit with Brexit income loss

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman requests more lending transparency from European Investment Bank
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  3. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  4. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  5. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  6. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  8. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  12. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May
  2. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  6. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  8. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  9. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  10. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  11. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  12. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations