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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 June 2007, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
EU law case study: Roaming charges
European laws come in different forms and are made in a variety of ways.

mobile phone
A committee of MEPs backs a cap on mobile roaming charges
The European Commission's attempt to cut mobile telephone roaming charges illustrates the "co-decision" process, where MEPs and the 27 member states decide jointly on a draft law produced by the European Commission.

The process is not much more complicated than legislation at national level, but it is less familiar to most Europeans.

2000/6 COMMISSION DECIDES TO ACT

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".

12 JULY 2006 COMMISSION PROPOSAL

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.

15 MARCH 2007 TELECOMS MINISTERS AGREE IN PRINCIPLE

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 make the commission's proposal less costly for business. By March, ministers are reported to have agreed in principle that the price 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. However, within weeks it becomes clear that the member states prefer a higher figure.

12 APRIL 2007 PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE BACKING

The European Parliament's industry, research and energy committee votes overwhelmingly in favour of regulating roaming charges. It wants a ceiling of 40 euro cents (27p) per minute for outgoing calls and 15 euro cents (10p) for incoming calls. Other parliamentary committees, including the internal market and consumer protection committee, have already adopted opinions, which differ in some respects from the industry committee's report, drafted by its rapporteur on roaming, Paul Ruebig. The industry committee is the lead committee on roaming, however, so its proposal is the one that will go forward to a vote of the full parliament.

3 MAY 2007 PLENARY VOTE DELAYED

A vote in the full parliament, scheduled for 9 May, has been delayed because of difficulties encountered in behind-the-scenes talks between representatives of the parliament and the member states. These talks, known as trilogues, are designed to produce a compromise version of the law, acceptable to both MEPs and governments, so that the law can be passed at first reading, in time for holidaymakers to benefit from lower roaming charges as early as summer 2007. But the two sides still disagree on the level of the price cap, and on whether consumers should have to ask for the capped charges in order to benefit from them.

The ministers want higher caps, and an "opt-in" system. The MEPs, led by Paul Ruebig, table a compromise package, but the price cap is still lower than the governments want, and the MEPs want the capped prices to apply automatically after a transitional period. Mr Ruebig says the vote of the full parliament will now take place in the week beginning 21 May.

15 MAY 2007 A COMPROMISE IS REACHED

MEPs and the German presidency agree on a set of price caps that would start about mid-way between the parliament's and Germany's proposals, fall a bit in 2008, and further in 2009. So, to make a roaming call would cost 49 cents in year one, 46 cents in year two, and 43 cents in year three. To receive a call when abroad would cost 24 cents in year one, 22 cents in year two and 19 cents in year three. Telephone companies would have one month from the publication of the regulation to offer customers the new rate. After another two months, all customers would be switched to the new rate, unless they had chosen a different package. After three years the caps would be lifted.

At this point, the law is almost guaranteed to see the light of day, as long as the negotiators have not given away too much. The parliament and the member states still have to give final approval.

23 MAY 2007 PARLIAMENT BACKING

The full parliament votes to accept the deal reached eight days earlier. In the mean time, it has also won the support of the parliament's industry committee.

German Economy Minister Joachim Wuermeling says the new rules should take effect from 29 June - two weeks later than the European Commission had hoped. The delay means that companies will not have to offer the new low tariff until at least the end of July, half way through the holiday season.

Some reports suggest the member states are dragging out the procedure in order to give companies time to prepare for a drop in income.

7 JUNE COUNCIL APPROVAL

The Telecoms Council (ministers from each member state with responsibility for telecommunications) falls into line behind the compromise negotiated by the German presidency.

However, formal adoption is still planned for 25 June, with publication in the official journal on 29 June.

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 - there will be no delay.


What if the parliament and the member states had disagreed?

In this case, a big effort was made - by the parliament and the member states - to pass the regulation at first reading. In most cases, the parliament would examine the draft legislation independently, and would approve it at first reading with a range of amendments.

If the ministers do not support the amendments, the legislation goes to a second reading, in both the parliament and the council, and the timescale for adoption starts 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 the compromise, the legislation fails.




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