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EUROPEAN UNION

Merkel accepts UK’s decision to delay triggering Brexit

Germany and Britain agreed Wednesday that Prime Minister Theresa May needed time to prepare for talks to leave the EU, after London took the first step towards Brexit by giving up its presidency of the European Council.

Merkel accepts UK's decision to delay triggering Brexit
Theresa May (l) and Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

On her first foreign trip since taking office in the wake of Britain's seismic referendum, May told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that her government would not ask to leave the European Union before the end of 2016 in order to plan a “sensible and orderly departure”.

“We will not invoke Article 50 until our objectives are clear, which is why I've said already this will not happen before the end of this year,” May said in Berlin, referring to the formal EU mechanism to leave the bloc.

Merkel, who is expected to play a pivotal role in the Brexit talks, said it was in the interests of all that Britain had a “well-defined position” before beginning the negotiations.

“No one wants things to be up in the air — neither Britain nor the member states of the EU,” Merkel said.

“If we look at all matters and challenges facing us, it's most important to have Britain as a partner and we will do so and then negotiate on Britain leaving,” she added.

Britain had earlier said it would no longer assume the six-month rotating presidency next July as planned, choosing instead to prioritise negotiations on implementing last month's shock vote to leave the EU.

Estonia's turn, which had been due to start in January 2018, is set to be brought forward by six months to take Britain's place, a spokesman for EU president Donald Tusk said after the announcement.

May has repeatedly asked for patience as her new government maps out its strategy for ending its 43-year-old membership of the EU despite some EU countries wanting Britain out of the bloc as soon as possible.

'Not walking away'

A key sticking point in the Brexit negotiations is likely to be the freedom of EU citizens to live and work throughout the bloc.

Merkel has warned that Britain cannot have continued access to the single market while restricting the freedom of movement – an emotive issue in the June 23 referendum.

May avoided giving details on her position in her first parliamentary question session in London earlier this week – a time-honoured ritual seen as a test of British political leadership.

She also mocked the opposition Labour and Liberal Democrat parties and dodged criticism about past undiplomatic comments made by her choice for foreign minister – top Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson.

May backed Britain's continued membership of the EU.

Several commentators heard echoes of Thatcher in her barbed comments, with the Independent daily commenting that she was “eerily reminiscent” of the late so-called Iron Lady.

'Constructive spirit'

Observers in both Britain and Germany have drawn comparisons between Merkel and May: both pastors' daughters with supportive husbands, happy to stay out of the limelight, who rose to become leaders of centre-right parties.

They also share a love of Alpine hiking.

Given the importance of a relationship seen as key to the future negotiations, both leaders were at pains to stress their desire for close ties.

“I've been clear that Brexit means Brexit and the UK is going to make a success of it,” May said, but stressed that Britain was “not walking away from our European friends”.

“It's in that constructive spirit I've come here today to lay the foundation for a strong relationship in the months and years to come,” she said.

Following a working dinner with Merkel, May will travel to Paris for talks with French President Francois Hollande.

May is likely to have tougher ride with the Socialist leader than with Merkel.

Hollande has a presidential election looming next year and is coming under pressure from the far-right National Front, which wants France to leave the EU too.

 

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BREXIT

How roaming charges will hit travellers between the UK and EU in 2022

Trips between Europe and the UK and vice versa may well become more expensive for many travellers in 2022 as UK mobile operators bring back roaming charges. However there is some good news for all EU residents.

People look at their mobile phones.
How travellers between the EU and UK could be hit by roaming charges in 2022 (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

EU ‘roams like at home’ at least until 2032

First the good news. The European Union is set to decide to extend free roaming until 2032, so if you have your phone contract registered in an EU country you don’t have to worry about extra charges.

In addition to waiving the charges, the new regulation aims to ensure that travellers benefit of the same quality of service they have at home when travelling within the EU. If they have a 5G contract, for instance, they should also get 5G through the EU if possible. 

Under new rules, travellers should be given information about access to emergency services, including for people with disabilities.

Consumers should also be protected from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on satellite networks when travelling on ferries or aeroplanes.

The final text of the new regulation was provisionally agreed in December. The European Parliament and Council will formally endorse it in the coming weeks.

UK companies reintroducing roaming charges this year

And now the bad news for travellers to the EU from the UK

Customers of UK mobile phone operators face higher fees when travelling in Europe this year, as some companies are bringing back roaming charges for calls, text messages and data downloaded during temporary stays in the EU.

This is one of the many consequences of the UK withdrawal from the European Union. Because of Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the EU’s “roam like at home” initiative which was designed to avoid shocking bills after holidays or business trips abroad.

The EU’s roaming regulation allows people travelling in the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their regular plans at no extra cost. Switzerland is not part of the scheme, although some mobile phone providers offer roaming deals or special prices to cover travel in Switzerland.

Under EU rules, if the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fee is also capped at €0.032 per minute of voice call, €0.01 per SMS and €2.5 + VAT per gigabyte downloaded in 2022 (it was €3 + VAT in 2021). The wholesale price networks can charge each other is capped too.

The regulation was adopted for an initial period of five years and is due to expire on June 30th 2022. But the EU is preparing to extend it for another ten years. This time, however, the UK will not be covered. 

Which UK companies are reintroducing charges?

Three major UK network operators this year will reintroduce roaming charges for travels in the EU.

As of January 6th 2022, Vodafone UK will charge customers with monthly plans started after August 11th 2021 £2 per day to roam in the EU. The amount can be reduced to £1 per day by purchasing a pass for 8 or 15 days. Free roaming continues for earlier contracts, Data Xtra plans and for travels to Ireland.  

From March 3rd 2022, EE will also charge £2 per day to roam in 47 European locations, Ireland excluded. The new policy will apply to plans started from July 7th 2021. Alternatively, EE offers the Roam Abroad Pass, which allows roaming abroad for a month for £10. 

Another operator that announced a £2 daily fee to roam in the EEA, except for Ireland, is Three UK. The charge will apply from May 23rd 2022 for plans started or upgraded since October 1st 2021. The data allowance in monthly plans that can be used abroad is also capped at 12 gigabytes. 

O2 already introduced in August last year a 25-gigabyte cap (or less if the plan’s allowance is lower) to data that can be downloaded for free while travelling in Europe. Above that, customers are charged £3.50 per gigabyte. 

Other mobile operators said they have no intention to bring back roaming charges in the short term, but if won’t be surprising if they do so in the future. 

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection Policy at UK consumer organisation Which? was disappointed at the changes and urged the UK and EU to “strike a deal on roaming charges” to stop companies “chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to” and “prevent the return of the excessive charges people used to encounter.” 

By law, charges for mobile data used abroad remain capped at £45 per month and consumers can only continue data roaming only if they actively chose to keep spending. 

What about EU residents travelling to the UK?

In the EU, most mobile phone operators seem keen to continue free roaming for travels to the UK, but some have announced changes too.

In Sweden, Telenor aligned UK’s prices to those of non-EEA countries on May 1st 2021 while still allowing free roaming for some plans. 

Another Swedish operator, Telia, ended free roaming with the UK and Gibraltar on September 13th 2021 giving customers the option to access 200 megabytes of data for SEK 99 per day. People travelling to the UK can also buy a weekly pass allowing to make calls, send texts and download 1 GB of data. 

In Germany Telefónica Deutschland and 1 & 1 have extended current conditions for the UK until at least the end of 2022. However companies may keep other options open depending on negotiations with roaming partners. 

A1 Telekom Austria brought roaming charges back for the UK last June. Customers now have to pay €2.49 per minute for outgoing calls and €1.49 per minute for incoming calls if they are in the UK or Gibraltar. An SMS costs 99 cents and each 100 KB of data €1.49. 

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK. 

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