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Stagiaire Jeremy Schmetterer celebrates 21st birthday

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20150127_125103Congratulations to EU Reporter's new intern Jeremy Schmetterer, who celebrates his 21st birthday today - 27 January 2015.

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Roaming: EESC calls for a single tariff zone across the EU

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People should enjoy the local rate when using their mobile phones wherever they are in the EU, said the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in a recently adopted opinion on a proposed overhaul of the EU roaming rules.

A single tariff zone, offering calls and data consumption at local rates to all people who have a phone subscription in Europe, with the same speed and access to infrastructure, whichever country the call is made to or from: this, in the EESC's view, is the goal that the EU should pursue in regulating roaming services.

While welcoming the European Commission's proposed review of the roaming regulation and its goals as a positive step in the right direction, the EESC believes a bolder objective should be set.

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"The idea behind the Commission's proposal is that roaming services should be provided at the same conditions as they are at home, without any restrictions on access. This is a good proposal," said Christophe Lefèvre, rapporteur of the EESC opinion adopted at the July plenary session. "However, we believe that we should go beyond conditions and ensure that people in Europe do not have to pay more for their mobile communications when they go abroad."

The EESC also stresses that it is not enough to stipulate that, when similar quality or speeds are available in another member state's network, the domestic operator should not deliberately provide a lower quality roaming service. This means, for instance, that if a consumer has 4G connectivity at home, they should not have 3G while roaming if 4G is available in the country they travel to.

Part of the problem is poor local infrastructure. To guarantee unlimited access to the latest generations and network technologies, the EU should also be ready to invest in infrastructure to fill existing gaps and ensure that there are no "white spots", i.e. regions that have inadequate broadband internet coverage, many of which are known to be located in rural areas and to drive away potential residents and businesses. The EU should also introduce minimum requirements that operators should progressively meet so that consumers can make full use of these services.

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In addition, the EESC insists on the need to require multiple alerts to be sent to consumers to protect them from bill shocks when they exceed the limits of their subscriptions. When approaching the ceiling, the operator should keep alerting the consumer whenever the volume set for the previous alert has been consumed again, particularly during the same call or data use session.

Finally, the EESC points to the issue of fair use as a sticking point. While all mobile communications contracts mention fair use in connection to roaming, the EESC regrets that the regulation fails to define it. But with the COVID pandemic people have come to rely massively on online activities and fair use has taken on a whole new meaning. Think, argues the EESC, what that means for an Erasmus student attending a university abroad, following classes on Teams, Zoom or some other platform. That uses up a lot of data, and they will quickly reach their monthly ceiling. Fairness would be for people in such a situation to have the same ceiling in the country they are visiting as they have in their home country.

Background

Roaming surcharges were abolished in the EU on 15 June 2017. The rapid and massive increase in traffic since then has confirmed that this change has unleashed an untapped demand for mobile consumption, as shown by the first full review of the roaming market published by the European Commission in November 2019.

The current roaming regulation will expire in June 2022 and the Commission has initiated steps to ensure that it is prolonged for an additional 10 years while also making it future-proof and more in line with the outcomes of a 12-week public consultation. The proposed review aims to:

·         Lower maximum prices that domestic operators pay to operators abroad providing roaming services, with a view to driving retail price reductions;

·         providing consumers with better information about additional charges when calling special service numbers, such as customer care numbers;

·         ensure the same mobile network quality and speed abroad as at home, and;

·         improve access to emergency services while roaming.

Read the EESC opinion

Read the European Commission's proposed review of the roaming regulation

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Strengthening ties to #Japan in uncertain times

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The 18th round of negotiations on a trade agreement between the EU and Japan took place in Tokyo last week. This was the first round of talks since the leaders' meeting in March between President Juncker, President Tusk and Prime Minister Abe, where they all affirmed our commitment to conclude these negotiations as early as possible this year. At the round last week, all issues to be covered by the agreement were discussed, working towards narrowing the remaining gaps between us.

We will shortly publish a more detailed report about the round and the state of play of each topic.

As the EU's trade negotiations with Canada and the US have grabbed the headlines over the past few years, it has been easy to overlook the fact that the European trade agenda is much wider – extending also to Japan, the world's fourth largest economy and our closest partner in Asia.  It was in 2013 that all member states of the EU instructed the European Commission to start talks for a trade deal with Japan, in order to make it easier for European exporters to sell their products and services to a strong market of almost 130 million people.

The EU and Japan already have close trade ties. The EU exports over €80bn of goods and services to Japan every year. More than 600,000 jobs in the EU are linked to exports to Japan, with Japanese companies alone employing more than half a million people.

However, European firms still face a wide range of barriers to trade. One is customs tariffs, particularly on food imports into Japan. Duties on many European products, such as pasta, chocolate and wine are quite high; the same goes for European shoes, leather products and many other goods. This hampers access to the Japanese market and makes them too costly for many Japanese consumers. A trade deal could greatly improve such access and see over €1 billion a year in tariffs removed at the stroke of a pen.

Yet another barrier is Japanese technical requirements, which often make it more difficult to export safe European products to Japan. An agreement would go a long way in ensuring that such rules are more transparent and fair for our exporters. The best way to secure such a level playing field is by ensuring that requirements are in line with international standards. Already, our negotiations have born valuable fruit, as the EU and Japan have intensified their cooperation in several international standard-setting fora, for instance on motor vehicles. In parallel, we want to focus on helping smaller exporters who are disproportionately affected even by smaller barriers. That's why we want to have a dedicated chapter for them in the agreement.

We are also aiming to create new opportunities for European services firms and investors in areas like maritime and financial services or digital trade, and bring big opportunities on the Japanese government procurement market.

There is an ongoing vibrant public debate on trade and globalization, and we are now applying the lessons learnt from this debate in our negotiations with Japan. The EU-Japan agreement will contain all of the guarantees built into the EU-Canada trade agreement – safeguarding the right to regulate, strong rules on labour rights and the environment, and guarantees that public services can remain public. We have also proposed that Japan follow our new, transparent model of investment dispute resolution, known as the Investment Court System.

The negotiation process is conducted under the strict scrutiny of EU member states and the European Parliament. Since January 2016 alone, there have been 13 meetings with all EU member states and ten with the European Parliament's trade committee – in addition, the European Parliament has set up a dedicated monitoring group for the negotiations. We have consulted extensively with stakeholders, civil society in particular. We have published our most recent negotiating proposals and reports of negotiating rounds, and published a comprehensive assessment of the impact of a possible agreement.

Economic forecasts suggest that over the next decade around 90% of the world's economic growth will take place outside Europe, much of it in Asia. So we need to act now, to make sure EU businesses, workers and farmers can fully benefit from those growing opportunities. However, apart from the direct economic benefits of a trade deal, there is a bigger picture to take into account. With Japan, the EU shares a commitment to the international rules-based trading system, and we have much more in common than trade: a commitment to democracy and the rule of law, environmental protection, and high labour, environmental and consumer protection standards. Strengthening the partnership with our closest Asian ally, building bridges between us, is now needed more than ever as we face rising protectionism around the world. An EU-Japan trade deal would send a powerful signal.

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