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Contentious plans to slash the prices Europeans pay to make mobile phone calls while abroad are in doubt after splits emerged in Brussels about the damage they might cause telecommunications companies.
Peter Mandelson and Günter Verheugen, two of the European Commission’s biggest hitters, claim that excessive new regulations could damage the competitiveness of mobile phone operators such as Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile.
They are locked in a fight with Viviane Reding, the European Union telecoms commissioner, who believes a crackdown on roaming charges is fully justified and enjoys huge popular support.
Ms Reding hopes to win approval for her strategy next week, and has refused to bow to ferocious lobbying by the industry and criticism by national telecoms regulators.
But the weekly Commission meeting next Wednesday could be a bruising affair, with Mr Mandelson and Mr Verheugen claiming other colleagues will back them in trying to rewrite the proposal.
Ms Reding argues the Union’s 380m mobile phone owners are charged unjustifiably high fees to make calls elsewhere in the EU.
But mobile phone operators, estimated to make 10-15 per cent of profits from “roaming” charges, are furious. Some industry members have argued she should regulate wholesale roaming prices only – the fees operators charge each other to use their networks – and leave consumer pricing to the market.
National telecoms watchdogs back the idea of only regulating wholesale charges and argue measures at the retail level are unworkable.
Aides to Mr Verheugen, the German industry commissioner, claim consumer groups and member states also have doubts about Ms Reding’s approach. “Verheugen is not opposed to cutting roaming charges but it is a question of how you do it.”
A colleague of Mr Mandelson, the trade commissioner, said: “It is a question of finding the right balance between protecting consumers and making sure we don’t damage the competitiveness of European providers.”
EU leaders have backed the idea of lowering “roaming” fees as a way of breaking down Europe’s internal borders. But Ms Reding’s suggestion has provoked anger from mobile phone companies and fears they will raise prices on other services.
In a speech to industry members in Brussels last week, Ms Reding vowed to go ahead with her draft law as planned. She said: “Imposing regulation at wholesale level only would remedy the problem of high charges between operators but would not guarantee that lower wholesale prices would be passed through to retail customers.”
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