The CEOs of Vodafone Group, Telefonica, Orange and Deutsche Telekom called for rapid and radical regulatory changes to ensure they are able to continue to serve customers, invest in networks and innovate. 

In a keynote yesterday, Vodafone’s Margherita Della Valle, Telefonica boss Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete, Orange chief Christel Heydemann and Deutsche Telekom’s Timotheus Hoettges made a joint plea for regulation to be eased or improved in areas such as spectrum allocation and in-market consolidation. 

Although calls for regulatory change are nothing new, the chiefs voiced concerns that Europe is in growing danger of falling too far behind other regions of the world in terms of technological innovation and investments in digital infrastructure. 

Describing the joint appearance with his peers as a “big historical moment”, Hoettges said it is nothing less than a declaration from the four CEOs that “something has to change in this continent”, noting that more than 60 per cent of European telcos are no longer earning enough to cover their capital investment costs. 

Alvarez-Pallete cited the claim that European operators still need to fill an investment gap of about €200 billion. “Something is wrong and we need to fix it,” he said. 

“We are ready to play our part,” Della Valle added. “But if we need to do more, we also need a new deal”.  

Here, the Vodafone chief highlighted the need for market consolidation to become possible in Europe, as well as spectrum certainty and fairness. 

Heydemann, whose group has just succeeded in gaining regulatory approval for the merger of its Spanish operations with those of Masmovil, observed that the European Commission has shown some signs it is moving in the right direction with the recent publication of a new white paper.  

However she questioned if “we are going to move fast enough” to keep pace with the speed of developments such as AI. 

Hoettges concluded that it’s time for the political leaders in Brussels to stop talking and start taking action. 

“We are losing the trust of the capital markets, who give us the money to build infrastructure. And now it’s time that these kind of statements, which we have heard over the last year, are becoming real in legislation,” he said.