Mobile roaming charges in the EU are now 55% cheaper, and could disappear altogether by 2015

One of Europe’s most antiquated, yet meekly accepted, idiosyncrasies was drastically scaled back on July 1, when mobile roaming charges in the European Union (EU) were cut by 55 per cent, and may be reduced to zero before the end of the year…

In a continent where the Schengen agreement and widespread adoption of the euro makes it feel increasingly like a federal collection of states rather than separate, sovereign nations, the stubborn resistance of mobile service operators to change has been slowly eroded.

Being able to travel from Spain to Germany via France, Belgium and the Netherlands without having to either a) produce your passport or b) change your currency has been one of the best things about closer European integration. But those national borders – invisible everywhere else except for the odd map – have been stringently observed by mobile phone companies.

So if you have a mobile phone in Spain and have the temerity to ‘roam’ to another country, you would be charged often eye-watering fees for connecting to another mobile mast, with the only difference being that it is located on another part of the continent. Often, the new provider would be the same as the one used back home, yet the costs would be increased by as much as tenfold.

Well, no longer. The 55 per cent price slash is a welcome, if long overdue, step in the right direction. EU mobile phone users will now pay a maximum €0.20 cents per megabyte of data downloaded while visiting another EU country, down from the previous price of €0.45 cents per megabyte.

(Watch the video – Connecting the Continent for you)

For phone calls – something that smartphones used to do before they became pocket-sized computers, organisers, cinemas and cameras all rolled into one – the price has fallen from €0.24 cents per minute to €0.19 cents per minute when making a call, while to receive a call will cost just €0.05 cents per minute, down from €0.07 cents per minute.

The decision to reduce roaming charges was made by the European Commission, which has been working hard to lower the cost barriers for telecommunications between EU member states for years. Earlier this year, the European Parliament put together a comprehensive reform bill for telecommunications, and hopes to scrap roaming fees completely – perhaps before 2015.

“By the end of this year I hope we see the complete end of roaming charges agreed,” said EU Commissioner for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes. “The Parliament has done their part; now it is up to Member States to seal the deal.”

And not before time. Anybody who has ever spent a sustained period of time in another country – whether on holiday, visiting friends, away for business or spending time at their holiday home – will know the hassle that comes with either using another pay-as-you-go phone while away, minimising the use of your own phone, or throwing caution and a great wad of cash to the wind and using their phone as normal, only to be met with a painful bill at the end of the month.

As Europe becomes ever more integrated, this is an encouraging move that can only help smooth people’s easy transit between one European country and another.