On July 1, the new EU roaming regulation came into force. On this occasion, we asked some members of the European Parliament who supported us for interviews. So, without further ado, read Arlene McCarthy (UK Labour), Judith Merkies (Dutch PvdA), Róża Thun (Polish Platforma Obywatelska) and Dr. Paul Rübig (Austrian ÖVP) debate the new roaming regulation, our activities and other work they are currently doing in the European Parliament:
Bengt Beier (FairRoaming.org): On July 1, the new EU roaming regulation came into force. It will lead to lower price caps for using mobile phones abroad and better consumer protection against bill shocks. From 2014 on, users will also get the right to choose a different operator for roaming services. How happy are you with this result?
Dr. Paul Rübig MEP: I am very happy with the results but I am not yet completely satisfied. I am happy that all of us, Commission, Council and Parliament, managed to work out three roaming regulations within 5 years for the benefit of the European customer. I won’t be fully satisfied, however, until there is a fully equal treatment for all customers within European union, within the European single market.
Arlene McCarthy MEP: The real innovation here is that from 2014, operators must allow customers to connect to local networks anywhere in Europe by paying a one-off fee and effectively enabling consumers to use and pay as if it was a domestic call. Some mobile operators have sought to prevent customers from doing this but the new law means they can no longer stop a mobile phone customer connecting to a local cheaper network. This is a fair deal for consumers.
Judith Merkies MEP: This is very positive for the consumer, who will already enjoy lower rates this summer. Nonetheless, this is not an optimal solution. The fact that consumers have to choose different operators makes it very complex. I am in favour of one single telecommunication market in Europe, with a single tariff for calls, SMS and data within the EU. However, it was not possible to find a political agreement on this. I hope we manage to make this possible within the next few years.
Róża Thun MEP: It is a fantastic result, which not long ago seemed impossible to achieve. Many people have been working on this issue for years and I’m delighted that consumers will no longer be punished for travelling within the EU. Negotiations were not easy but the European Parliament pushed hard to bring down prices down to this level.
Bengt Beier: Commissioner Neelie Kroes has stated that she expects roaming charges to come down to the same level as domestic prices by 2015. Do you think this goal will be achieved?
Arlene McCarthy: Many operators have responded to our laws on roaming and cut their prices further, but some have tried to avoid giving consumers the full benefit and sought ways around the law. The Parliament will remain vigilant and continue to monitor the situation for European consumers. We will also remain vigilant to ensure operators do not increase the costs of domestic calls to compensate for the excess profits lost from their inflated roaming prices.
Judith Merkies: I hope so, but I do not think this will happen automatically with this system. We will have to force operators to only offer one tariff for their services within Europe.
Paul Rübig: Yes, I am sure it will be achieved! There is a broad consensus on this topic and I think we, Commission and Parliament, will continue on this successful path together till the day, where all unjustified differences in charges will vanish.
Róża Thun: The gradual fall in roaming charges from astronomical levels in 2007 until now delivers consumers savings of 75% across a range of mobile roaming services. The change in price for downloading data will fall by 500% over the next two years. We will see what effect this has on the market. Mobile phone operators will be forced to adapt to this new reality, creating a truly European telecoms market offering more choice and better prices to consumers. Reaching domestic prices by 2015 is not a pipe dream… we’re almost there already.
Bengt Beier: Why do you think that roaming charges need to be regulated by the EU?
Judith Merkies: Because consumers are paying far too much now, the prices are far too high. We have to aim at a single telecommunication market where prices are low both for all intra-EU calls. That is not going to happen automatically, price differences were still very high the last years. We have to intervene to adapt the system.
Róża Thun: The EU has no internal borders. Citizens of Spain, Poland and Cyprus are free to travel, study, do business wherever they like in the EU without experiencing discrimination. Roaming is a clear example of discrimination. Why should I pay more just because I’ve crossed a border? The free movement of people and the internal market are the cornerstone of the European project, which is why this had to be tackled on an EU level.
Paul Rübig: First of all I would like to make clear that I am fully against pricing by politics/ imposing prices by politics! What we need – and what we have achieved – are rules against the price abuse in the telecommunications sector within a united Europe and the rest of the world. Roaming was one of the last fields in Europe, where citizens suffer unequal treatment just because they cross “borders”. I believe we need rules against abuse. We need transparency in the field of charges. The customer needs sufficient information and a full overview so that he doesn’t lose track on his bills. Not so many years ago, there have been charges on data roaming, which were 1000 times higher than domestic prices. This should not happen in a single market like the European Union. What we want is a fair competition in the European telecommunications market!
Arlene McCarthy: Strong competition and fair pricing is in the long-term interest of businesses and consumers, but there is always a risk that dominant players will seek a short-term advantage. That is why we had to take action on the roaming regulation. It would be better if the industry voluntarily gave customers a better deal.
Bengt Beier: How do you value the work done by Europeans for Fair Roaming? Do you think the campaign had an impact on the decisions that were taken?
Arlene McCarthy: I believe strongly that the power of European citizens through their combined action can change the law. We saw this with the ban on the cruel trade in cat and dog fur. There is no doubt that the continued pressure from Europeans for Fair Roaming and the voice they have given to European citizens on this important issue has impacted upon legislators. You campaign has been another great example of people power in action!
Róża Thun: Popular support was critical in getting this regulation through. No one thought it was possible to break the power of the mobile phone operators. The mobilisation of civil society around this issue showed us politicians how important this issue was to ordinary people. This gave us the legitimacy to speak on their behalf and demand an end to the ripping-off of consumers. Europeans for Fair Roaming monitored progress closely all the way through and there is no doubt that pressure was felt by decision makers.
Paul Rübig: For sure! I really appreciate the work done by the initiative – it has proven that it is possible for citizens to be involved in European law making. The effort you have put into this campaign has definitely paid off.
Bengt Beier: What are the other important issues for citizens the European Parliament will be working on in the next months?
Róża Thun: We are working on a number of dossiers, which will improve the functioning of the internal market. In this time of crisis, the single market, which offers a market of 500 million consumers to businesses all over the EU is the most useful tool in getting the economy growing again. We are working on proposals to open up public procurement, which will save European taxpayers millions. Two more issues, alternative dispute resolution and online dispute resolution will help to develop the single market by offering consumers who shop online in other EU member states easy solutions if things go wrong.
Arlene McCarthy: There are two key reports I am working on at the moment. Firstly, in response to calls from NGOs such as Oxfam and the World Development Movement we are introducing new rules to crack down on abusive speculation on food subsidies and to increase levels of transparency and openness in financial market.
Secondly, the Accounting and Transparency Directives currently on the table for discussion in the European Parliament include proposals which will require European Union-listed and large unlisted extractive and forestry companies to publicly disclose the payments they make to governments worldwide. This could prove to be a ground breaking development for developing countries and I will be working with colleagues in the European Parliament and the Publish What You Pay campaign to ensure that these proposals become a reality.
Paul Rübig: We are working on one of the most important issues in the European Union – the job situation in Europe and the situation of SMEs – Small and Medium Enterprises.
We want to support SMEs fully in their efforts to create jobs, to do fantastic research and to lead us through the crisis. More than 90% of European jobs can be attributed to SMEs. We are working on programmes to support SMEs in, for example, their work in the area of research and innovation, better and easier access to funding as well as self-employment of women and migrants. In my opinion, the European crisis cannot just be brought to an end with a few “prestige projects” but with strong, stable and growing SMEs that produce excellent products, offer perfect service and do world-class research!
Bengt Beier: Thanks a lot for the interview!
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