On 4 March, the Council´s Committee of Permanent Representatives adopted guidelines for negotiations with the European Parliament on the single telecoms package. Based on these guidelines, the Latvian presidency of the Council will shortly begin discussions with the MEPs on the end of roaming surcharges and net neutrality.
Compared with the Parliament´s position on the end of roaming (the MEPs adopted their position on the package before the May 2014 elections), the Council employs a very cautious approach. If the European Parliament´s version was adopted, the roaming would end at the end of this year. The original Commission´s proposal was December 2016. The member states offer a compromise – the regulation would be applicable as of mid-2016 and would offer consumers a basic allowance of roaming minutes, SMS and data without surcharge. The exact value of such allowance would need to be set at a later stage. Once the allowance would be used, the operator would be entitled to surcharge further roaming usage, but with a significantly lower fee compared to today´s rates. The permanent solution concerning roaming phase-out would be made based on Commission´s proposal no earlier than mid-2018, when the current Roaming III regulation is set to be revised. This negotiating guidelines show that the member states watered down significantly the ambitious proposals both of the Commission and of the EP. States representatives have long warned that quick abolishment of roaming could lead to increased consumer prices for telecommunications and pushed for a more gradual solution. However, roaming surcharges became a highly politicized topic in the May 2014 EP elections and their abolishment became a flagship of the European Commission. Therefore some MEPs criticized harshly the COREPER´s position. Guy Verhofstadt, chairman of the liberals parliamentary group (ALDE), tweeted that member states representatives should “hang their heads in shame” for such outcome.