Interview with Neil Kerr

Mobile phone roaming charges to be abolished by June 15

Malta’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU on the legislative load the Presidency is faced with, on what’s happening within the six Council formations he is responsible for, on the New Skills Agenda for Europe and on the much awaited removal of cell phone roaming charges.

What has been your experience so far in these first few weeks since Malta took over the Presidency?

We have now hit the ground running and I am very satisfied to say that the time I have invested in the units I am responsible for has paid off. Over the past months and years, I have gone to great lengths to ensure that the respective teams have the space they require to operate with a degree of autonomy and flexibility. Even though this might have been quite challenging in terms of abandoning the comfort zone they were used to operate in, I am very satisfied that they have risen to the occasion and are in control of the process. This has also allowed me to focus on the ‘big things’ and to intervene on strategic matters, as required.

How is Malta being perceived in Brussels in terms of managing the presidency?

The feedback we received so far has been very positive and extremely encouraging. I have always insisted that we should not only be remembered for what we achieve, but more importantly, for the way we actually do so. The legislative load we are currently faced with has seen us engaging with all institutional actors from day one and, in this respect, we have been very open and transparent in our negotiations. Which sectors falling under the council configurations within your remit do you predict will make significant progress in terms of getting dossiers approved?

We consider ourselves very lucky in the sense that we have a very heavy legislative load to deal with. In terms of the legislative cycle, we find ourselves at the mid-point of the European Commission’s term. Last year, the European Commission issued a substantial number of legislative proposals. This means that this year will be a very busy year for the co-legislators – Council and the European Parliament.

There is a lot happening within the six Council formations I am responsible for and, hence, we need to ensure that we keep up the momentum. The files related to the single market will be given priority – keeping in mind that the latter is the European Union’s largest asset. In this regard we will be investing heavily in files falling within the traditional internal market (goods and services) but also in those relating to the digital and energy single market. Moreover, it is important to point out that even though the spotlight will be mostly on the files where we shall be wrapping up negotiations with the European Parliament, a lot of ground will also be covered in terms of the new dossiers which have just been adopted by the European Commission such as the 2030 climate and energy framework, the follow-up to the Paris Agreement and the Clean Energy for all Europeans package.

What is in store in terms of facilitating the transition of youth workers in their working life?

In the field of youth, the Maltese Presidency believes in the role that young people can play in order to bring about the necessary changes. For this reason, we are committed to work towards empowering young people and towards helping them develop the necessary life skills and competences to face such challenges and facilitate a smoother transition to adulthood.

The Presidency is committed to work on this through various Council Conclusions it aims to adopted by the May Education, Youth Culture and Sports (EYCS) Council in May and which will aim at developing the right policy frameworks, initiatives and measures enhancing necessary support for all youth workers in their work with the younger generations. The Conclusions will also aim to call for measures to be taken at EU level, particularly in the context of the work that is currently being undertaken on the New Skills Agenda for Europe.

On a similar note, the quality and relevance of education should be linked to the requirements of the labour market and directed towards the provision of relevant skills. One kind of effective mechanism will be put in place to help progress in this area and on the New Skills Agenda for Europe.

The Agenda will address skills development and the skills gap with a focus on employability, mobility, competitiveness and fair and balanced growth.  It will look in particular at the skills needed, at all levels, to meet the challenges and make the best use of the latest developments, particularly in the digital field, and to ensure that people can develop and upgrade their competences to keep pace with an ever-changing labour market and societies. It will also propose specific EU actions and back up concerted policy efforts by Member States, aimed at promoting the active involvement of relevant stakeholders in education, training and the labour market

Will consumers see an end to mobile phone roaming charges and geo-blocking during the Maltese presidency?

The first few weeks of the Presidency have been very rewarding in this respect. We have successfully concluded negotiations on wholesale roaming which shall translate in abolishment of roaming charges by the established deadline of June 15. Moreover, we are waiting for the EP to signal its readiness to engage with the presidency to start negotiations on geo-blocking.

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