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BRITAIN

German minister urges UK to be more ‘realistic’ in Brexit talks

Britain needs to be more "realistic and pragmatic" in Brexit negotiations with the EU, Germany's European affairs minister says.

German minister urges UK to be more 'realistic' in Brexit talks
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: DPA

Expressing deep disappointment over deadlocked negotiations on Britain's future relationship with the bloc, Michael Roth also voiced astonishment that London also “does not appear to have any increased interest in discussing foreign and security issues” with the EU.

Roth said he was “disappointed that London is shifting further and further away from the political declaration agreed between us as a reliable basis for negotiations.

“I would like those responsible in London to be more realistic and pragmatic,” he said, adding that “the Brits” are especially known for their pragmatism.

Britain followed through on the results of a deeply divisive 2016 referendum and left the EU after almost half a century of integration on January 31st.

It remains bound by the bloc's rules until December 31st pending the outcome of negotiations about its future relationship with its largest trading partner.

But with the pandemic wreaking havoc on the timetable, fears are growing that time is running out fast to secure an agreement that could prevent a messy exit.

London has ruled out extending the transition beyond December 31st even though chief negotiators have warned that an agreement lies out of reach because of a fundamental gap in major areas such as fishing rights and fair
competition rules.

As Germany took over the presidency of the EU on July 1st, Chancellor Angela Merkel pointedly said the bloc must prepare for the possibility that talks could fail.

READ ALSO: What does Brexit mean for my rights as a Brit living in Germany?

'We need two to tango'

Even on the issue of security policies – where both sides had pledged to maintain close cooperation, London is blowing cold at a time when allies were more necessary than ever, Roth said.

Germany's European affairs minister Michael Roth. Photo: DPA

“In the geopolitically uncomfortable post-corona world, good and trustworthy partners are all the more important,” he said.

“Close cooperation in this area is in both sides' interests. But it is clear that we need two to tango… At the moment, we're dancing while standing still.”

To the EU's dismay, London had signalled that an “institutionalised relationship” regarding security was not necessary after Brexit given Britain's engagement in the trans-atlantic alliance NATO.

Germany has listed Brexit negotiations as one of its main priorities during its presidency of the EU.

How to revive the bloc's economy after the huge devastation from the coronavirus pandemic is also a key concern.

Roth noted that more than ever, Germany is counting on backing from France, with the French-German powerhouse recently reinvigorated with a joint initiative by Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron to kickstart the
EU's economy.

READ ALSO: 'No big bang but things will change down the line': How Brexit will affect Brits in Germany

The initiative had been the basis of the huge €750 billion ($884 billion) recovery plan approved by the bloc in July and marked a huge U-turn on the part of Merkel as it is underwritten by joint borrowing – until now a taboo in Europe's top economy.

“The Franco-German engine was always running, even if admittedly it sometimes stuttered a little.

“But for Europe to emerge from the crisis stronger… it is now important that we keep the well-oiled engine running at full speed and take the other Europeans with us on an equal footing.”

By Isabelle Le Page

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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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