Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Europe - roaming

EU law case study: Roaming charges

From the BBC:

The EU Commission's attempt to cut mobile telephone roaming charges reaches a key stage on Thursday, when the European Parliament's industry committee votes on the plans.

Here we take the proposals as an illustration of the "co-decision" process, where MEPs and the 27 member states decide jointly on a draft law produced by the commission.

European laws come in different forms and are made in a variety of ways.

The process is often no more complicated than legislation at national level, but it is less familiar to most Europeans.


I have told the market in 2004 and 2005 that it had to bring the prices down - it didn't, so now legislative initiative is necessary
Viviane Reding, February 2006

In 2000, the European Commission starts investigating operators accused of overcharging customers. In 2004, it warns the industry as a whole that prices must come down. The next year, it launches a website revealing startling variations in charges - from 0.58 to 5 euros per minute.

In 2006, following a recommendation from national regulators, Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding announces plans to cap the price of roaming calls at the level of equivalent calls on the customer's home network - the "home-pricing principle".

EU targets mobile roaming costs


The Commission puts forward a draft regulation which it claims would cut the cost of roaming by up to 70%. Public consultation has already led to changes to the home-pricing principle: Ms Reding's new idea is to cap wholesale roaming charges - which operators charge each other for handling foreign calls - and then to cap the retail mark-up at 30%. She has defended this plan against a last-minute attack from other commissioners, who wanted retail price caps to kick in only if industry failed to bring down prices voluntarily over the course of a year, or 18 months. But she has had to give some ground. She has dropped her demand that it should cost nothing to receive calls when abroad, and agreed to a six-month transition period before the retail cap on calls made abroad enters (automatically) into force.

EU slashes overseas mobile costs


Officials from the EU member states meet frequently to discuss the commission's proposal in the autumn of 2006, before the first talks at ministerial level - a gathering known as the Telecoms Council - in December 2006. At this point, France and the UK are leading a push to water down the commission's proposal. By March, there is still some disagreement on how the price caps should work, but ministers are reported to agree that the cap for a call home from abroad should be 50 euro cents (33p) per minute - not far off the 44 cents proposed by the commission.

EU 'agrees' cap on mobile charges

Next steps:

12 April 2007: Vote in European Parliament industry, research and energy committee, on a report by the committee's "rapporteur" on roaming, Austrian MEP Paul Ruebig. Other parliamentary committees, including the internal market and consumer protection committee, have already adopted opinions, which they have sent to the industry committee.

9 May 2007: Vote of full European Parliament. MEPs may accept the amendments to the commission's proposal laid out in the Ruebig report. However, other amendments can also be put forward, and may be approved.

7 June 2007: Final agreement by the Telecoms Council. The key question will be, do the ministers agree with the text of the law adopted by the parliament? If so, the law is passed. The ministers - represented by the German presidency of the council - will have been in close contact with the key parliamentary rapporteurs, in the aim of finding the necessary common ground to make this possible.

If this were a directive, it would not come into force for a couple of years after approval, because each state would be given time to transpose it into law in its own way. But as it is a regulation - which applies immediately in all member states as soon as it is published - approval in June would allow it to enter into force before Europe's summer holiday season.

Further readings?

If the ministers do not approve of the parliament's amendments, the draft regulation will go to a second reading, in both the parliament and the council, and the timescale for adoption will begin to stretch.

The parliament has three or four months to vote on a second reading, after which the council has six to eight weeks to give its views on the parliament's amendments.

If the governments and the parliament still disagree, an attempt to rescue the legislation is made by a process known as conciliation. In conciliation, which can last up to 24 weeks from the date of the council's second reading, representatives of member states and the parliament work together to produce a compromise text. If either the parliament or the council rejects it, the legislation fails.

see also Parliamentary Oeil and Draft agenda for Plenary 9 May 2007

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