June 14. 2024. 1:43

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European telecom price cuts on the cards in next EU mandate

While most politicians and lawmakers have been discussing enlargement prospects for the EU, others have quietly worked to bring together EU citizens and their European neighbours in a much more technical but tangible way: telecommunications.

EU politicians have put up a successful decade-long regulatory fight to reduce the telecom bills of EU citizens when travelling abroad by cutting roaming fees. Considered one of the EU’s most tangible “successes”, it is often referred to as the “roam-like-at-home” regulation.

During the 2019-2024 EU mandate, a series of measures to deepen integration were set in motion, reducing telecom prices for EU citizens.

At the same time, the Commission has been working with neighbouring EU hopefuls, primarily in the Western Balkans, but also Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, to fold them into the “roam-like-at-home” area.

Given that the roaming-free area was widely considered a tangible success, it has become part of the Commission’s plan to bring EU neighbours closer before they formally join the EU.

Western Balkans integration

Hungary is “committed to accelerating Western Balkan integration” during its upcoming Council presidency, which starts on 1 July 2024, Zoltán Kovács, the country’s secretary of state for international communication, wrote on X in May.

This could mean that Budapest will try to deepen integration between the EU and Western Balkans through legal or voluntary roaming agreements.

The Commission has been working to align the Western Balkan roaming area to the EU roaming area. According to the Commission website, the step-by-step reduction should see the price decrease from €18/Gb on 1 October 2023 to €9/Gb on 1 January 2028.

Earlier in this mandate, starting from July 2021, non-EU Western Balkan countries have come together in a “roam-like-at-home” area similar to the EU’s. The agreement that made this possible, signed in 2019, was supported by the Commission.

The agreement is between all Western Balkan countries; Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

Western Balkans enjoy lower EU roaming rates following new agreement

An agreement between 38 Western Balkan telecom operators and the EU – which slashes the cost of roaming – has come into force, lowering the cost of internet data for the regions’ residents when in the EU and vice versa.

One …

Eastwards enlargement

Effort to enlarge the “roam-like-at-home” area gained further momentum following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The invasion prompted the EU to facilitate voluntary price reductions by EU and Ukrainian telecom operators to assist the 4.2 million Ukrainian refugees in the EU.

The European Commission has been working bilaterally with Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia to align their telecom regulations with EU standards.

During the next mandate, the Commission will be assessing whether these three countries are sufficiently aligned with all EU telecommunication legislation. Once aligned, the third countries should notify the Commission, which will assess their compliance.

The Commission should then send a recommendation proposal to the Council of the EU, where EU countries will then decide whether to move forward and integrate the country into the EU roaming-free area.

Ukraine is the frontrunner in this integration process.

Its association agreement with the EU was modified in April 2023, and a Commission analysis in November 2023 acknowledged significant progress towards alignment with EU regulations. However, further legislative alignment is required to fully integrate Ukraine into the EU roaming area.

Moldova, which modified its EU association agreement in October 2023, still needs to align and implement EU’s telecom regulations.

Meanwhile, Georgia lags behind as its association agreement has yet to be modified to support its accession to the EU roaming area. Nevertheless, the EU called Georgia to begin aligning with the relevant EU acquis.

EU leaders approve accession talks with Ukraine, Moldova, bypassing Hungary

In a historic step, EU leaders agreed on Thursday (14 December) to open EU accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova and grant candidate status to Georgia, despite an earlier threat from Hungary to veto the deal.

Deepening integration in the EU

In the 2019-2024 mandate, the Parliament pushed the Council of the EU to accept further fee reductions for intra-EU communications.

These are currently capped at €0.19 per minute for a call and €0.06 per SMS. Following an inter-institutional agreement, they should be abolished by 1 January 2029, following a gradual reduction process.

This is due to an amendment tabled in April 2023 by Romanian MEP Alin Mituța, rapporteur of EU’s newest telecommunications regulation, the Gigabit Infrastructure Act.

Up to the 2029 deadline, the Commission will conduct technical work.

The decision to abolish these fees is unlikely to change as it would require legislative change that the new Parliament would likely oppose whatever its composition, considering that the decision was adopted with a 594-7 majority.

EU broadband law: Agreement reached on intra-EU call abolition in 2029, voluntary tacit approval

Representatives of the EU Council, Commission, and Parliament agreed on a compromise text of the Gigabit Infrastructure Act: the tacit approval remains a voluntary principle while the abolition of intra-EU communication ‘surcharges’ is set for 2029-2032.

Read more with Euractiv

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