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EUROPEAN UNION

European mobile operators brace for end of roaming charges

Long an important source of revenue for telecom companies, roaming charges will be lifted in Europe starting June 15, raising pressure on operators in a tight market.

European mobile operators brace for end of roaming charges
File photo: Maridav/Deposit Photos

Roaming charges within and outside Europe account for an average of around five percent of sales for telephone operators in Europe, estimates Sylvain Chevallier of BearingPoint.

But the impact of the new measure will differ for corporate and individual clients, he adds.

On the Spanish market, subject to wide seasonal variations in business due to a reliance on tourism, Telefonica estimates the end of roaming charges in the EU will lead to a 1.2 percent drop in its sales this year.

But the change can hardly come as a shock for telecom operators, according to Victor Marcais of Roland Berger, who noted the plans have been in the works for several years and are “largely anticipated”.

“If the operators are not ready, it will be more their fault than anything else,” said Dexter Thillien, analyst with BMI Research. “It has been very gradual.”

Still, telephone operators are taking different approaches as they gear up for the change.

In Italy, for example, Wind-Tre says it implemented the European requirements two months early, while its rival TIM said it would adhere to the new rules the day they come into effect.

In France, Free expanded the reach of its roaming-charge-free zone in March, whereas Orange and Bouygues did away with the fees in May. A fourth company, SFR, is expected to follow suit on June 15th.

It will be hard to tell exactly how much the move affects telecom operators since they no longer detail the revenues in their filings.

The European Commission estimates the end of roaming fees will cost European telecom operators €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion).

The market generates €4.7 billion a year, according to European telecoms regulator BEREC.

But the share of revenues from roaming charges already significantly declined in recent years as charges for calls and text messages dropped 90 percent since 2007 and data charges declined 96 percent since 2012 under EU regulations.

Data traffic, meanwhile, has grown 100-fold, according to the EU.

Bet on growth

But the telecoms business varies greatly from country to country, with Europe's southern countries relying heavily on tourism compared to their northern counterparts.

“Southern countries like Portugal or Greece have a lot of temporary clients and fewer with longer-term plans, so revenues from roaming fees also helped finance the costs of reinforcing networks to help deal with seasonal peaks,” said Isabelle Jegouzo, who represents the European Commission in France.

The wholesale market – business among operators – was one of the main stumbling blocs in discussions as some operators were pushing for high prices while others sought to lower them.

“Unsurprisingly, the countries in the south wanted the highest prices whereas those in the north wanted the opposite. In the end, we got a typical European agreement, win-win, with no one completely winning but each one getting a bit,” said Dexter Thillien at BMI Research.

The price per gigabyte was established at €7.70, which is set to decline until 2022. Operators are allowed to apply surcharges – in accordance with local regulators – if losses linked to roaming surpass three percent of annual net profit.

“As consumers grow accustomed to using data throughout Europe they will undoubtedly be inclined to do so outside Europe, which will compensate for some of the losses,” said BearingPoint's Chevallier.

The European Commission is making the same bet, said Jegouzo.

It aims to stimulate the digital economy in Europe in terms of numbers of users and services in the hope that consumption rises faster than the pace of dropping prices.

“This is where operators will see gains,” said Jegouzo.

“There are positive aspects that are being underestimated, particularly how the public sees the operators,” said Roland Berger's Victor Marcais.

“It's a chance to improve their image but also to benefit from the rise in consumption.”

By Erwan Lucas

IMMIGRATION

How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

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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