“Roaming like at home” in the Western Balkans

Telecommunication of citizens in the region of the Western Balkans, starting from 1 July  2021, will now occur without paying a roaming fee, as a result of the beginning of the third phase of the implementation of the Regional Roaming Agreement for the Western Balkans. This agreement, signed at the second Digital Summit of the Western Balkans in Belgrade on 4 April, 2019, is a significant step forward for the countries of the region in the implementation of the Multi – annual Action Plan for a Regional Economic Area (MAP REA) and the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans, which the countries supported at the Digital Summit in Sofia in 2018. Additionally, it provides a range of benefits for mobile users in cross-border calls, messaging and data transmission, business, tourism, strengthening intra-regional connectivity and establishing a common regional market.

An important feature of the agreement is the provision of gradual implementation, which allowed the countries a two-year period to introduce a mobile traffic regime based on the principle of “roaming like at home” that exists within the European Union. This means that in the transition period from 1 July, 2019 to 30 June, 2021, there will be a gradual reduction of roaming costs, according to the model of adding roaming costs to the price of the service within the home network, so that for regulated calls they do not exceed EUR 0.05 per minute, EUR 0.02 per SMS message and EUR 0.025 per megabyte for data transfer. After the expiration of this period, Article 5 provides for the abolition of the charging of any surcharges to the domestic price for made or received calls, messages, or data. In this way, in the case of traveling from Serbia to another country in the Western Balkans, when using mobile services, the price that is valid in domestic traffic will be charged.

The significance of this agreement is reflected in the demonstrated political will of the countries for mutual cooperation. Multilateralism expressed in the negotiation, signing and implementation of this agreement is a way to improve relations in areas where obstacles can be resolved with the participation of all regional actors. With this initiative, the countries have shown their commitment to the Berlin Process, i.e. the process from which this initiative originated and the framework for strengthening cooperation and economic progress in the region in the context of the European integration. In that sense, the new telecommunications regime is an excellent chance for the EU to potentially start reducing roaming prices in relation to the region, which would be an incentive for further integration.

In addition to the positive political message that the region sends in this way, from 1 July of the current year, it opens a series of opportunities that will be manifested daily. The abolition of roaming will reduce the total cost of staying in other Western Balkan countries, which could encourage travel within the region, as well as promote regional tourism development. Doing business and investing in the region is also facilitated in this way. Although telecommunications are only one aspect of the region’s digital transformation, in this way the economies of the Western Balkans operate in line with the initiatives of the European Commission’s Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, one of whose goals is to support their digital transition.

Overall, the agreement and the innovations it brings in the economic and social field from July 1, 2021, facilitate the further path of the countries of the Western Balkans towards membership in the European Union. As there are several advantages that the agreement brings, the essential task of the countries of the Western Balkans is to show consistency in its application in the coming period. Non-payment of roaming will certainly facilitate the endeavour to achieve the four freedoms of movement of people, goods, services, and capital, following the example of the Union.