MOBILE TELEPHONY : COMMISSION CONFRONTED BY VARIOUS INITIATIVES ON ROAMING.

A Franco-British coalition has stolen the European Commission's thunder on roaming'. Its proposal for a regulation aiming to half charges for mobile communications throughout the EU failed to stir up the enthusiasm anticipated at the 11 December Telecommunications Council. It has, by contrast, drawn out a Franco-British alliance, which appears to stand a fair chance of success.

The one certainty for the EU executive is that all the member states agree on the need to regulate wholesale tariffs. However, as within the European Parliament, whose opinion is expected in March or April 2007 (first reading, co-decision procedure), many member states are keen to grant operators a stay of execution before bringing out their heavy artillery, ie regulating retail prices charged to consumers.

The aim would be to introduce a deferred application clause, which would only be applied to those operators that have not passed on cuts in wholesale charges to their subscribers. France and the United Kingdom defended this proposal and, to the Commission's considerable dismay, were supported by at least seven other member states (the Czech Republic, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Denmark and Austria). "This would simply introduce further obstacles,"said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding, pointing to a "very complex calculation" of roaming charges on the basis of operators, countries and services, which would require the establishment of a specific "Eurostat unit". "Those backing deferred entry into force want to put off the regulation by several years and do not want to see the effects of this clause introduced," the commissioner added.

"A VERY STRONG MESSAGE"

Other member states, including Germany, Ireland and Estonia, nevertheless share the EU executive's line and are calling for the regulation of retail prices at the earliest opportunity. "This is a very strong message for Europe," according to the Irish delegation, proving that "the EU brings real benefits to all citizens," notably young people. Like Poland, Ireland is also keen to see text messages and the transfer of data by telephone...

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