22nd Oct 2016

Juncker overrules own commissioners on roaming

  • Following complaints by MEPs, Juncker (r) ordered the withdrawal of a proposal on roaming, for which Ansip (l) is responsible (Photo: European Commission)

[UPDATED on Friday at 12.25] European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has ordered his civil servants to withdraw a heavily-criticised draft proposal setting out rules on cross-border use of telecommunications services, mere days after his commissioners defended it.

“The commission services have, on the instruction of president Juncker, withdrawn the draft and are working on a new version,” one can read on the commission webpage, where the proposal had been published on Monday. The page was updated on Thursday (8 September).

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  • Commissioners Ansip (Digital Single Market) and Oettinger (Digital Economy) (Photo: European Commission)

The proposal said European telecom operators would not be allowed to charge consumers for using their phone in another EU country for at least 90 days a year. After that period, consumers could face additional costs.

Following publication of the proposal, which can be vetoed by national governments or MEPs, a storm of criticism appeared.

MEPs like Belgian Liberal Guy Verhofstadt said the commission “should not break its promise to end roaming surcharges” altogether, not just for 90 days a year, and called for the proposal to be revised.

The centre-left Socialist group sent out social media messages calling the proposal “complete nonsense”.

But as recently as Wednesday, EU digital commissioners Andrus Ansip and Guenther Oettinger published a joint statement defending the proposal, saying that 99 percent of European travellers are abroad less than 90 days a year.

“Why did the commission put forward the 90 days minimum? Very simple: We have to strike the right balance,” they wrote.

“Without a few safeguards to avoid abuses - safeguards that the European Parliament and Council [which represents member states] have asked the commission to specify - network quality and investments in new capacity in some countries may suffer as people could opt for different territorial operators, and the domestic mobile prices might go up as operators would try to compensate losses.”

But Ansip and Oettinger have now apparently been overruled by their boss.

Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein said Friday afternoon that Juncker decided to withdraw the proposal in light of “feedback received”.

He noted the proposed text was “simply not good enough for our president” and that the commission civil servants will come up with “a better one”.

Winterstein also stressed that “contrary to reports, roaming charges are going to disappear”.

EU and telecoms firms target 5G benefits

As connecting everyday items to the internet is set to become a normality, the EU Commission is trying to develop a 5G network to cope with the extra demands.

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