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Nokia and Vodafone deals damage European mobile industry, says Telecom Italia CEO Franco Bernabe

Jennifer Scott

GSMA chairman and CEO of Telecom Italia Group Franco Bernabe (pictured) has slammed Nokia and Vodafone for letting down the European mobile industry.

Vodafone has announced it is selling its 45% share in Verizon Wireless to joint venture partner Verizon Communications for $130bn. In the same week, Nokia announced it is selling its devices and services arm to US software giant Microsoft.

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Speaking at the GSMA’s Mobile360 event in Brussels, Franco Bernabe said he could see the benefit of the revenue from the sales coming into the European economy. But he said losing such assets posed a threat to the future growth of Europe’s mobile industry.

“We have seen many changes in the last few days and they are not in the direction of strengthening the European industry,” he said. “I think that what we have seen, and I want to stress this one time more, in the last few days is not what Europe needs.”

“I think that – for our markets – open, trustworthy investment is very welcome but, despite the fact I think Microsoft will do a fantastic job, what happened to Nokia does not go in the direction of helping Europe become a champion.

"With what has happened to Vodafone, I am not sure again if it is the right thing to help the European industry grow.”

Bernabe called on regulators to give the deals “very serious consideration” and made a bid to re-ignite enthusiasm for building Europe back up to its heyday in mobile.

“I think that we need to consider that Europe has been at the centre of mobile technology development, has been the leader in innovation in mobile technology and now it is losing ground. I think that we cannot think that this is the future for Europe,” he added.

“Europe needs a strong boost to get back in the driving seat of innovation.”

Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, was also at the event. Although she wouldn’t pass judgment on the two deals, she did agree with Bernabe that Europe needed to get back to the top of its game.

“I couldn’t agree more that we badly need to be back in the driving seat and we could, we can,” she said. 

“There are so many talented people, so many research innovation assets are at stake and we have proven that we can, so why not get back in the seat we should deserve? It is indeed time to act.”

Kroes, who used to be the competition commissioner at the EC, concluded: “I do have great respect for Nokia, finding the courage to make this decision.”


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