Monday

24th Sep 2018

EU roaming charge cut enters UK referendum campaign

  • With "EU roaming charges now down to near-zero, gone entirely next year, consumers are better off remaining in the EU," Cameron said. (Photo: Nicolas Nova)

Saturday 30 April is a day when European citizens can feel a concrete benefit of the EU, with charges on phone calls, text messages and mobile internet going down before being phased out next year.

The good news has been seized upon by British prime minister David Cameron as an argument to stay in the EU, two months before EU membership referendum.

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  • Culture minister Vaizey: no certainty this deal would continue if the UK left the EU. (Photo: Ian Glover)

"EU roaming charges now down to near-zero; gone entirely next year. Consumers are better off remaining in the EU," Cameron posted on his official Twitter account.

He later re-tweeted a message from the ministry of culture on the "cut in roaming charges for UK consumers travelling in the EU".

He also posted an article in which he said that culture minister "Ed Vaizey explains the UK's influence inside the EU to get a better deal for consumers on roaming charges".

“The UK has fought for these cuts to roaming charges which will be a huge boost for families going on holiday this summer," Vaizey said in the article.

“A vote to leave could be a vote for increased mobile phone charges on the continent and could mean that families are stung by large unexpected charges on holiday," he said.

Cameron's government use of the end of roaming is part of a campaign to show voters that they would be worse off if they voted to leave the EU.

“If the British economy is hit by the mere risk of leaving the EU, can you imagine the hit to people’s income and jobs if we did actually leave?,” finance minister George Osborne said earlier in April after a report by the International Monetary Fund warned that a British exit from the EU would "do severe regional and global damage".

On Friday (29 April), for example, Cameron was in an engine factory in Peterborough to "explain why staying in the EU is better for UK workers".

But roaming prices are an argument for a large part of the EU referendum electorate.

According to a research published by Sainsbury’s travel insurance in January, 34 million Britons - 67 percent of British adults - were planning to go on holidays abroad this year.

Not all will go to European destinations, as many will fly to the US, Australia, New Zealand or Asia. But with security concerns on the rise in many destinations, British travel agents said that many would prefer to stay in Europe.

Earlier this year, bookings for holidays in Spain, Portugal and Greece were booming.

Britons also travel all year round to spend weekends in European cities.

'Europeans saving money'

Starting from Saturday, cross-border call inside this EU will be charged no more than €0.05 per minute, instead of €0.19 until now. The cost of receiving a call should be in line with the EU average maximum, instead of €0.05.

A text message will be charged up to €0.02 instead of 0.06 and a megabyte of data will be charged um to €0.05 instead of €0.20.

On 15 June 2017, roaming will be abolished and all uses will be charged the same price as in the home country.

"These rules protect the right of every European to access the online content of their choice, without interference or discrimination," EU commissioner for the digital economy Guenther Oettinger said in a statement Friday.

"This is not only about Europeans saving money, this is about bringing down barriers in the Digital Single Market," the commission's vice-president for the single digital market Andrus Ansip also said.

For British consumers the future of the measure could depend on the results of the referendum.

"Because we have no certainty on what our arrangements outside the EU would look like, we don’t have certainty that this deal to cut roaming charges would continue if we left," culture minister Vaizey wrote in an opinion article publish by the Daily Telegraph's website.

"Some who advocate leaving offer Canada and Albania’s relationships with the EU as alternative models – but neither of these countries are covered by this deal. Any Canadians and Albanians holidaying in Paris still face the irritation of high roaming charges," he wrote, referring to recent campaign controversies.

"This is not economic theory; its real, tangible evidence of why we are better off in a reformed EU, and how are we stronger working with our neighbours than out on our own," he added.

'Seriously deluded'

The argument was rejected by the Leave campaign.

"If David Cameron thinks the British public will vote to stay because they'll save a few quid on their phone bill, he is seriously deluded," a spokesperson for the campaign told the Independent website.

"It just shows how much he and the rest of the Europhile elite are out of touch with ordinary voters."

The eurosceptic press was also unimpressed by the new prices.

"Why your mobile phone data roaming could cost you big this summer," a headline in the Daily Express said.

"New rules coming into effect from tomorrow mean that millions of customers on some of the UK’s biggest networks could be stung with big phone bills if they don’t watch how their devices connect to the Web when abroad," the article said, ignoring that it was the case before.

The article explained that the EU has decided that "the cost of using a mobile phone abroad would be capped from April 30," but it quoted a phone provider criticising its competitors and created a confusion between their price policies and the EU decision on roaming.

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