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Parliamentary questions
22 December 2008
Answer given by Mrs Reding on behalf of the Commission

The question of the Honourable Member concerns the time period within which credit must be used by pre-paid subscribers in Malta. The issue of time windows for mobile top-up cards was already addressed in the Commission's reply to Written Question E‑0182/07(1). This issue is particularly relevant in view of Malta's high proportion of pre-paid mobile subscribers (91 % in 2007), the highest percentage in the European Union(2).

This particular issue has not been addressed in the directives constituting the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications. It is a contractual issue between the operator and the subscriber, regulated by the market itself according to the specific characteristics and consumer's needs in the different national markets.

The Universal Service Directive(3) nevertheless provides that national regulatory authorities shall promote the interests of end-users, by ensuring that transparent and up-to-date information on applicable prices and tariffs and on conditions for using electronic communications services is available. The issue of transparency of tariffs and conditions is also being addressed in the ongoing review of this regulatory framework in order to increase consumer protection.

Failure to provide the consumer with clear, appropriate and complete information relating to the prices and other important features of the telecoms services (such as the usage limitation in time/expiration date of the service) by a telecommunications provider also falls under the scope of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive(4) and can be regarded as a misleading practice. Under the directive, operators/retailers must provide consumers with all the material information they need including prices and expiry dates in order to make informed choice and purchase decisions. Competent national authorities and courts may on a case-by-case basis rule on such commercial practices. Malta has transposed the directive in January 2008.

In addition, consumers' rights in respect of standard consumer contracts are safeguarded by the Council Directive 93/13/EEC of 5 April 1993 on unfair terms in consumer contracts(5), which prevents significant imbalances in the rights and obligations of consumers on the one hand, and businesses on the other. This general requirement is supplemented by a list of terms which may be regarded as unfair and taken into consideration. Terms which are found by a national court, tribunal or administrative body to be unfair under the directive are not binding on consumers.

The competence to enforce national measures transposing the abovementioned directives rests mainly with national competent authorities, in this case the Malta Communications Authority or consumer protection bodies, which may wish to investigate this matter and take any necessary action in accordance with national laws.

(2)Source: 13th Implementation Report, March 2008.
(3)Directive 2002/22/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 March 2002 on universal service and users' rights relating to electronic communications networks and services; OJ L 108, 24.4.2002.
(4)Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2005 concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market and amending Council Directive 84/450/EEC, Directives 97/7/EC, 98/27/EC and 2002/65/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council, OJ L 149, 11.6.2005.
(5)OJ L 95, 21.4.1993.

OJ C 316, 23/12/2009
Last updated: 8 January 2009Legal notice