22nd May 2022

EU roaming charges plan suffers setback

  • EU information society commissioner Viviane Reding has repeatedly called for the rules to be in place by the summer (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission's much flaunted goal of having cheaper mobile roaming fees across the bloc before EU citizens go on summer holiday this year has taken a bashing as differences between member states have stopped an important European Parliament vote from going ahead.

After two days of negotiations, representatives from the three branches of the EU have still not reached a compromise on a draft law originally planned for a vote in the parliament next week.

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The vote has now been postponed for two weeks when MEPs on 21-23 May gather for their monthly plenary session in Strasbourg, as the commission and the author of the draft law – Austrian centre-right MEP Paul Ruebig – are keen reach an agreement with the member states in order to speed up the process of the law coming into effect as soon as possible.

EU information society commissioner Viviane Reding - who is responsible for the law and who opened the battle against European telecoms operator in 2006 after years of voluntary measures failed to see prices drop - has repeatedly called for the rules to be in place by the summer, when most telecom operators' revenues spike from the charges customers pay to make and receive calls abroad.

Opt-in or opt-out?

However, there remains strong disagreement on the levels of the price caps and on whether customers should be automatically switched to the new rates or have to actively sign up to them.

Mr Ruebig's report proposes reducing roaming charges to a maximum of €0.40 a minute for outgoing calls, and €0.15 for incoming calls, plus value-added tax, when using the phone abroad across the union. Current prices in some places are as high as €12 per minute.

Under the MEP's proposal, charges will apply automatically without consumers having to change contracts and without any fees.

Member states France, the UK and to some extent Spain, on the other hand, want higher price caps - €0.60 per minute for outgoing and €0.30 for incoming calls – and want to leave it to consumers to opt-in to a deal on lower roaming prices. All three countries are popular tourist destinations where telecoms companies make considerable profit when the visitors use their mobile.

Other countries such as Estonia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Poland are more positive towards the parliament proposal, one EU diplomat told EUobserver.

There are still ongoing negotiations between the parliament and the member states as well as between the member states themselves, the diplomat added.

Time running out

With the parliament vote postponed, time is running out for the EU roaming law to come into effect before the height of the roaming season kicks in.

If the EU capitals agree to a compromise text with the parliament before MEPs adopt the report by Mr Ruebig at the end of May, then the 27 EU telecoms minister could then formally rubberstamp the proposal when they next meet on 7 June.

After that, the around five pages of legislation would go through translation before being published in the EU's Official Journal – meaning that the law could come into effect just in time for EU holidaymakers.

However, any further delay to the process would mean that the EU institutions themselves close down for the summer before formally agreeing to the law, leaving European telecoms operators to enjoy another season of high roaming fees and Ms Reding's consumer-pleasing initiative on ice for the duration of the holiday season.

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EU telecoms ministers are expected to clinch a deal on slashing the price of using mobile phones abroad at an informal meeting today. But the UK warns that rigid price caps could lead to all consumers - even those not phoning from abroad - being forced to pay extra to plug the gap in company income.

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