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ANGELA MERKEL

FOCUS: Trump tearing up diplomatic rules by attacking UK and Germany

President Donald Trump is once again tearing up the diplomatic norm of treading lightly in allies' domestic politics, with his team attacking Britain's beleaguered leader over Brexit and irritating Germany.

FOCUS: Trump tearing up diplomatic rules by attacking UK and Germany
Archive photo shows Donald Trump and Angela Merkel in Hamburg in 2017. Photo: DPA

Trump, who has slaughtered so many sacred cows in US politics, has shown no compunction over lambasting Prime Minister Theresa May's handling of Britain's most sensitive issue, even as she sought to build a warm relationship with him.

His team has also been ruffling feathers in Germany recently, prompting high profile politicians to call the US Ambassador a “total diplomatic failure”.

Causing a stir

Earlier this week, Richard Grenell, US Ambassador to Germany and a rising star in Republican circles, caused a stir with his outspoken criticism on issues from Iran policy to usage of telecom equipment by China's Huawei.

SEE ALSO: 'Total diplomatic failure': US Ambassador sparks anger in Germany

He drew particular fire after he reprimanded Germany for its budget planning in which defense spending would be well below the 2.0 percent of GDP targeted by NATO and decline by 2023.

“That the German government would even be considering reducing its already unacceptable commitments to military readiness is a worrisome signal to Germany's 28 NATO allies,” Grenell said.

A senior lawmaker of ruling coalition members the Social Democrats, Carsten Schneider, labeled Grenell a “total diplomatic failure” and the liberal Free Democrat's (FDP) Wolfgang Kubicki even demanded the envoy be expelled.

“Any US diplomat who acts like a high commissioner of an occupying power must learn that our tolerance also knows its limits,” said Kubicki.

SEE ALSO: What you should know about Trump's new ambassador to Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel responded more diplomatically, saying Germany would “continue our effort” to raise defense spending “but not at the expense of development aid.”

Trump has been unflinching in his criticism of Merkel, especially her welcome of millions of refugees and migrants into Germany.

Richard Grenell, US Ambassador to Germany. Photo: DPA

'Democracy in the UK is all but dead'

With Britain mired in crisis ahead of its scheduled March 29th departure from the EU, Trump said that May “didn't listen” to his negotiating suggestions and that he was “surprised to see how badly it has all gone.”

His son, Donald Trump Jr., went further in a biting op-ed in the eurosceptic Daily Telegraph newspaper, saying that “democracy in the UK is all but dead.”

The 41-year-old, seen as harboring future political ambitions, deplored that May “ignored advice from my father” and wrote: “Now, the clock has virtually run out and almost all is lost — exactly as the European elites were hoping.”

National security advisor John Bolton, who advocated Brexit before taking a job at the White House, was more diplomatic during an appearance on Sky News but said that Trump sought a resolution that “allows the United States and Britain to come to trade deals again.”

Brexit advocates have held out the possibility of a trade agreement with the United States as proof that Britain would not be isolated by leaving the EU.

SEE ALSO: Prepare for Brexit – the ultimate checklist for Brits in Germany

'No friend of Britain'

Former president Barack Obama had also weighed in on Brexit, saying before the vote that Britain would be at the “back of the queue” for a trade deal if tt left the EU.

But senior Americans' full-on, personal criticism of the leader of Britain, generally considered the closest US ally, would have been unthinkable until recently.

“Donald Trump Jr. telling Britain our democracy is dead. Is it a joke?” tweeted David Lammy, an MP from Britain's opposition Labour Party.

Pointing to the younger Trump's meeting during the 2016 campaign with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on rival Hillary Clinton — an encounter being probed by special counsel Robert Mueller — Lammy wrote of the president's son: “You are no friend of Britain or democracy.”

Former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the European parliament's Liberal group and its Brexit committee, drew parallels between Trump and Brexit.

“Both Trump & Brexit involved external manipulation. Both were victories for our enemies,” he tweeted, adding: “There is another way.”

Not only UK and Germany

The US President has also increasingly attacked French President Emmanuel Macron over his climate and defense policies — stung after Macron, at last year's commemorations for the end of World War I, criticized Trump's brand of nationalist politics.

And Trump's ambassador to The Netherlands, Peter Hoekstra, had an unwelcome first encounter with the Dutch media when he arrived last year after the former congressman made unsubstantiated claims that Muslim extremists had turned sections of the country into no-go zones.

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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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