Is Europe roaming into a dangerous territory?

Posted on 29. January 2016

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henrique-tereno27 October 2015 was a historical day for everyone who enjoys to travel and talk over the phone when abroad. After two years of negotiations, the European Parliament decided to abolish roaming charges.

On the one hand, removing roaming charges could help increase the EU’s popularity, due to the fact that it gives the impression that the EU member states are connected to each other instead of being separated states. All in all, the abolishment of roaming charges could probably spread a feeling of belonging to the EU, as people will be able to communicate with other Europeans just as easily and cheaply as with their countrymen. On the other hand, this theory is debatable. It is true that communication between countries would be eased, but this will only favour people who have family in other countries of the EU, migrants, and people who often travel. This measure could provide a ‘boost’ to the feeling of belonging to a greater union, but this boost will only affect the group mentioned above. Thus, it is not likely that the remaining EU citizens will notice a significant change.

In my country, Portugal, the roaming debate is complicated, especially in the media. Most of the news that we hear about the roaming charges always focus on the economic side of the subject. The main argument is that the northern countries will be the ones who benefit from this measure and that it will be the southern countries who will pay the price for free roaming charges. In addition to this, some people argue that one way for Portugal to earn money is through roaming charges from the many tourists. Nevertheless, if the roaming charges are removed, some of the operators will increase their service prices and, at the end of the day, it will be the consumer (and more specifically the ‘Portuguese Consumer’) who will have to pay. However this scenario does not only apply to Portugal, but to all the southern countries (Greece, Spain, and Italy) who rely on tourism as an essential part of their income. Bearing in mind that roaming charges are collected by national companies, it seems that the companies who do not want the free roaming policy are threating the consumer with the increase of the national prices in communications.

Although the abolishment of roaming charges is, in its core, a good measure, it is still far from achieving its full potential. There are other measures that could support the abolishment of roaming charges. One example could be the improvement of transportation systems across Europe. The main obstacle that is blocking the abolishment of roaming charges from spreading a feeling of unity and belonging throughout Europe is the fact that not enough people are going to be able to enjoy this measure in order for it to be widely appreciated across Europe. This will happen because it is not within the possibilities of the average EU citizen to travel that often. If there was an improvement in the transportation systems, European citizens would be more encouraged to travel, and thus, would be more appreciative of the roaming measure. These improvements could be based on, for example, agreements with the transportation companies (be it air, train or bus companies) that could provide greater discounts to passengers travelling from one EU member state to another.

All in all, the abolishment of roaming charges in the EU can be viewed by some as an irrelevant measure that will be noticed by some and enjoyed by few. Others, especially the countries in the south, believe that this measure will greatly benefit the northern countries, while the southern countries will have to bear the costs. Notwithstanding all the criticism surrounding this measure, it is a vital step in the right direction. Roaming charges are seen as a barrier that blocks something that should be as easy as calling your friend down the road. Although this measure is still rough on the edges, it is an essential step towards achieving a unified and strong European Union.