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Will Liechtenstein call time on the mobile industry?
Liechtenstein Created: 3 Dec 2009
One of Europe's smallest sovereign states might be about to become the first country in the world to turn its back on mobile communications, depending on the results of a referendum to be held this week.

Liechtenstein's population this week gets the chance to vote on whether to overturn the Environmental Protection Law introduced in May 2008. Article 34 of the law includes the provision that “The holder of base station sites are due to take all appropriated arrangements in order to technically keep the electromagnetic field as low as possible in order to have the regulation reduction to be feasible and reached by the end of 2012, which will be an real mean of electromagnetic fields limited to 0.6 V/m [volts per metre]”.

By way of comparison, the major European countries including the UK, France, Spain and Germany set a limit of 41 V/m; neighbouring Switzerland sets a limit of 6 V/m, the same standard to which Liechtenstein has hitherto adhered. The proposed reduction therefore reduces the permitted base station exposure by a factor of 90%. The Swiss regulations already make it difficult for operators in that country to effectively roll out their networks.

The 41 V/m limit is based on the recommendations of the World Health Organization. The figure of 0.6 V/m is cited in 'The BioInitiative Report', published by a group of independent scientists and health professionals in September 2007, where it is proposed as a “recommended cautionary target level”.

Surprisingly, Liechtenstein (population 35,000 and area 160 sq km) has four mobile operators. All have submitted reports to the government stating that they will not be able to comply with the new limit. One, Orange, has said that it may close down its network if the legislation is allowed to stand.

Liechtenstein's Chamber of Commerce and Industry campaigned for the new Environmental Law to be set aside. The Liechtenstein government agreed, but this was rejected by the national parliament, and this in turn has led to the referendum, which seeks to overturn the law.

A victory for the campaigners for stricter limits will have implications for operators in other countries
It would be easy to dismiss the events in Liechtenstein as a storm in a Ruritanian tea cup. Liechtenstein is a very small country, with an unusual constitution. It is not part of the EU, and the build-up to the new law and the consequent referendum has passed almost unnoticed by much of the mobile industry.

Nevertheless, if the new Environmental Protection Law stands then it will encourage anti-mast campaigners across Europe to renew their efforts. It will also raise the status of the scientist 'outsiders' whose work informs the theoretical basis for the legislation. They will now be able to point to a proper parliament that appears to have considered the evidence and acted on their advice. Although the BioInitiative Report has been criticised as unscientific and partial by authorities in Australia, Germany and the Netherlands, it has also been cited in debates about emissions in France, the European Parliament, and lately in Belgium, which is now moving towards an emissions threshold of 3 V/m.

The next domino to fall might be France, where a government-led 'round table' process is reconsidering existing emissions limits and has called for city administrations to apply to take part in a trial of 0.6 V/m limits.

Related news:
Oct 2009, Liechtenstein: Great news from Lichtenstein!
Sep 2009, Liechtenstein: Liechtenstein to vote on mobile phone masts
May 2009, Liechtenstein: Liechtenstein wants to impose a strict emission threshold
Sep 2008, Liechtenstein: Liechtenstein adopts BioInitiative guidelines - Telecoms in panic.
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Source: Telecoms and Software news, Jeremy Green, 02 Dec 2009

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