The Brief: Roam, sweet roam

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

MEPs today backed a deal that means people will soon be able to call, text, and surf abroad in the EU for the same cost as they do at home.

The abolition of roaming charges is held aloft in Brussels as a totemic example of what the EU can do for citizens.

It is a nice thing to have, no question. Whether it qualifies as “iconic”, as the Commission described the bill today, is up for debate.

But it is a good example of something the EU can achieve that national governments cannot.

So what is the next roaming? We asked the question at the Commission’s midday briefing.

The Commission was on shaky ground when it suggested EU asylum policy might be the answer. It was on firmer ground when talking about the “social pillar” or the mobility package (watch from 4 mins 20).

Everyone understands a smartphone. For too many of us using a phone is as natural and as everyday as breathing.

The Commission has to find something as instinctively relevant – so why not focus on breathing?

Air pollution has a huge impact on the health of men, women and children. It kills half a million EU citizens every year.

National governments have consistently failed to meet EU air pollution standards.

Landmark court cases have been won against governments, notably in the UK’s Supreme Court and yesterday, the European Court of Justice. The ECJ ruling sets a precedent that will make it easier for the Commission to penalise offending member states.

There is growing grassroots support for better enforcement of air pollution rules. NGO and citizen-backed legal action is ongoing in Austria, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden after EU targets were missed.

Mayors such as Sadiq Khan in London and Anne Hidalgo in Paris could be valuable allies.

There are already open infringement proceedings, Commission-backed lawsuits, against 17 member states.

This is a pan-EU problem, where national action has been proved inadequate. It is far more important than cheaper phone bills. It’s your kids’ lungs and hearts.

The Berlaymont brainboxes should get to work on this and make it the new roaming.

Tougher enforcement, stricter regulation, joining forces with local authorities and credible campaigning communications would be a good start.

THE ROUNDUP

EU lawmakers are looking to punish Hungary after its crackdown on foreign universities. Jean-Claude Juncker said he does not like the decision and criticised Orban’s “biased” ‘Stop Brussels’ initiative.

The EU and Switzerland have put a bitter immigration dispute behind them. The Commission is now hopeful of a full cooperation deal by the end of the year. MEPs finally granted Ukrainians long-awaited visa-free travel.

Donald Tusk met with Theresa May in London today. Ireland’s Enda Kenny met with Angela Merkel in Berlin.

If you were an EU leader would you trust the British? An insightful piece by the Times’ David Aaronovitch and a nice bit of satire from The Onion.

Sir Michael Caine, star of The Italian Job, explained why he backed Brexit. He also inspired this chucklesome tweet.

Brexit means lots of things. But it also poses a threat to greater energy efficiency in British buildings. EU energy companies have promised not to invest in coal power plants from 2020.

A German broadcaster reported that EU cash was used to renovate a building that has since been turned into a brothel. Red faces all around…

Innovation Commissioner Carlos Moedas said the EU executive has to be bolder in communicating its achievements. He and researcher Michaël Gillon talked to Jorge Valero about the recent discovery of a star system that may contain Earth-like planets, a PR dispute with NASA and their favourite Belgian beers.

The EU’s auditors will scrutinise the bloc’s anti-radicalisation measures and assess how well the Commission is helping member states in the fight against terror.

A Spanish rail company lost an EU court case because it didn’t submit its appeal in the right language.

Germany is investigating 20 Turks on suspicion of espionage. Berlin rolled out its dedicated cyberdefence unit but its offensive capabilities are already drawing criticism.

One third of all imprisoned journalists, media workers and executives are in Turkish prisons. Amnesty International is demanding the release of journalists in Turkey and is looking for support and selfies for its #FreeTurkeyMedia campaign.

LOOK OUT FOR…

Tomorrow’s Eurogroup meeting in Malta will focus predominantly on the Greek bailout talks, which made little headway this week. President Jeroen Dijsselbloem will want to get back to business as usual after a week in which he was criticised by the European Parliament and its president for failing to show up at the plenary session.

Views are the author’s.

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