‘It’s about our Europe’: German business makes unusual political push for EU elections

It's not often German big business openly dabbles in politics, but many companies are urging their employees to reject eurosceptics and right-wing populists in May 26th European Parliament elections.

'It's about our Europe': German business makes unusual political push for EU elections
The EU elections are taking place on May 26th. Photo: DPA

From Volkswagen to Eon and Thyssenkrupp, Germany's corporate titans have become unusually engaged in defence of an open Europe, a position that is in their own strategic interest.

“Vote for Europe on May 26th — it's about freedom, it's about prosperity, it's about our Europe,” read a huge poster in downtown Munich unveiled Monday by Bavarian industry federation VBW.

It was the latest such initiative after the VCI chemical industry association recently launched a “Ja zu Europa” (“Yes to Europe”) campaign.

SEE ALSO: 'I've seen war in Europe': Berlin veteran in push to get people voting in EU elections

Alarmed by projections that see the far-right garnering at least one in five votes in the polls, the head of the German Employers' Confederation, “boss of bosses” Ingo Kramer, in February warned of the “serious” threat extremist forces pose to the European project.

“I ask all German companies to clearly show their colours,” he wrote, cautioning that “anti-Europeans from the left and the right” could end up obstructing the European Parliament.

Hubertus Bardt, head of the IW economic research institute, said that “never before have I seen so many companies publicly call for people to go and vote”.

“Businesses are realising the importance of European integration,” he told AFP.

Open markets, free trade

Most of the initiatives have come from large export-driven corporations that “are among the biggest beneficiaries of the European single market,” said Alexander Kritikos from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW).

The rest of the European Union accounted for €780 billion worth of German exports last year, its biggest market.

“Developments such as Brexit, increasing populism, euroscepticism and nationalism pose an enormous economic risk, especially for companies of this  size,” said Andrea Roemmele of the Hertie School of Governance.

She said big business profits from the European single market and favours a strong EU that can assert economic interests on the world stage, while “nationalist efforts, such as those we see in the USA under President Trump, mean declining revenues”.

Among other German business players, the Central Association of German Trade has published a “Yes to Europe” leaflet, while Ruhr industrial region giants Thyssenkrupp, RWE, Eon and Evonik will also encourage their employees to vote.

SEE ALSO: German chemical firms plan pro-EU campaign to get staff voting

Thyssenkrupp boss Guido Kerkhoff told local media last month that “we need to better explain why we need open markets and free trade to succeed, not a withdrawal into our national shells”.

Volkswagen will also issue a “clear call for a vote”, its human resources chief Gunnar Kilian said earlier this year, stressing that “for European unity, for our common values, for peaceful cooperation…our democracy needs every voice”.

Brand image boost

Kritikos said the Brexit drama had driven home the point in the remaining  27 EU states that “it would be fatal for businesses if the single market were to break up”.

Beyond the issue of maintaining open trade, a company taking a clear political stance can also boost its image as a responsible corporate citizen, experts say.

In another initiative, around 50 family-run enterprises recently launched a campaign against racism and xenophobia called “Made in Germany – Made by Diversity”.

Many family businesses are on board with the 'Made in Germany, made by diversity' campaign. Photo: DPA

“Consumers are becoming increasingly critical and are consuming not only according to economic but also social and political criteria,” said Roemmele.

Citizens with pro-European views, she added, “tend to be well educated and have strong purchasing power”.

On the other hand, such campaigns can further alienate those employees already drawn to far-right ideas, as populist political groups are seeking influence in works councils, particularly among several car manufacturers.

“Companies must be careful not to fuel partisan conflicts in their factories,” warned Bardt.

He pointed out that the corporate initiatives do not tend to mention any of the far-right parties by name, and said that the best way to combat extremist parties is high voter turnout.

By Yann Schreiber and Florian Mueller

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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.