EU President Juncker returns from trip, tears up roaming rules

EU spokesman defends flip-flopping as good policy-making

The European Commission's proposal to make mobile phone roaming across the European Union free for just 90 days a year lasted less than a week. It's been withdrawn while a new policy is drafted.

The 90-day limit, and another setting the maximum continuous period of free roaming at 30 days, attracted criticism -- particularly from students hoping to use mobiles from their home countries while spending a year studying abroad.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was in China when Brussels officials published the draft regulation for consultation on Sept. 5, but on his return told officials to start over.

"The president heard and saw the feedback that we received from consumer organizations, from parliamentarians, from stakeholders, from others. ... This proposal was in his view not adequate." said Commission Deputy Chief Spokesperson Alexander Winterstein.

"We have been listening, and now we are going back to the drawing board, and we will come up with a better proposal," he said.

The change of heart pleased members of the European Parliament.

"Free roaming should be free roaming all year round. By limiting it to 90 days, it felt like the Commission was backtracking on its promises," said Guy Verhofstadt of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe.

The 90-day limit had been selected so that 99 percent of EU travelers would pay no roaming surcharge, the Commission said when unveiling its proposal. The average trip lasts 12 days, Winterstein said.

He declined to comment on what the new proposal might be, but suggested that this week would be a good time to announce it. Juncker is scheduled to give the annual state of the European Union address on Tuesday.

However long it takes to agree on a new proposal, it will be in place in time to abolish roaming charges next year, Winterstein said.

He took exception to accusations that the Commission was "flip-flopping" on the policy, one of the centerpieces of its action on digital markets.

"What you call a flipflop, I call taking into account the feedback that we receive. Now, if that's flip-flopping, then yes, we will continue flip-flopping whenever stakeholders come forward with objections, whenever people respond to the public consultations that we offer."

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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