Roaming charges show good side of EU

EUROPE is often being accused of interfering too much with our daily lives. There is some truth in that. The usual excuse of the institutions of the EU - Council, Parliament and Commission - is that they have come under intense pressure from some national government, industry lobby or powerful NGO to take action which, although entirely reasonable to some, will be disproportionate to others.

EUROPE is often being accused of interfering too much with our daily lives. There is some truth in that. The usual excuse of the institutions of the EU - Council, Parliament and Commission - is that they have come under intense pressure from some national government, industry lobby or powerful NGO to take action which, although entirely reasonable to some, will be disproportionate to others.

This week the Parliament has taken the unprecedented step of regulating the price of mobile telephone calls. The move follows three years of efforts to get the telephone companies themselves to lower their charges for 'roaming' - that is, calls made or received in another EU country. But results have been mixed, and profits for the service providers remain huge. High charges seem to bear no relation to actual costs.

Internal barriers to the operation of the European single market are always difficult to break down in old industrial sectors but one would expect more flexibility in the field of new, fast growing telecommunications.

Many MEPs, including this one, were initially reluctant to let the EU intrude into retail price-fixing, preferring to regulate only the wholesale side of the business while leaving it up to individual companies to set their own consumer tariffs. But the long debate has convinced me that we are right, on this occasion, to be heavy-handed.


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So this summer a ceiling is to be placed on the cost of making a call of € 0.49 per minute and of € 0.24 for receiving a call. These charges will fall further until the whole regulation comes up for review in 2010.

Companies will have to ask customers if they wish to switch to the new euro-tariff or stay with their bespoke deals. Greater competition between telephone companies will result, and lower charges will almost certainly spread to data and SMS calls.

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Of course, MEPs will benefit more than most from this radical regulation. But anyone who takes their mobile for a summer holiday elsewhere in Europe, as millions now do, will have good cause to thank the European Union for its latest initiative. Mobile phone users will no longer be penalised for simply crossing a border.

Andrew Duff is the Liberal Democrat Euro MP for the East of England. www.andrewduff.eu

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