European Union (EU) lawmakers reached a preliminary agreement yesterday on how to curb excessive charges for consumers who use mobile phones outside their home country.

The compromise between European parliamentarians and the German government ends two weeks of tough negotiations. Germany held out for a better deal for mobile phone operators and the parliamentarians pushed for lower prices for consumers. The German government was representing the position of the national governments of the 27 EU member states.

If the entire European Parliament and a majority of the member states support the agreement, consumers will initially pay €0.49 (£0.34) per minute to make phone calls abroad and €0.24 (£0.16) per minute to receive calls. Both groups will take up the agreement during meetings in the coming weeks.

The law will come into effect as soon as the telecom ministers sign off on the agreement.

A year after the agreement is enshrined in EU law the so-called roaming charges will drop to €0.46 and €0.22 respectively, European Parliament officials said at a press conference. Two years after its adoption they will fall again to €0.43 and €0.19 per minute.

Wholesale roaming charges will be reduced over a three-year period too, from €0.30 in the first year the law is enforced, €0.28 in the second year and €0.26 in the third year.

Initially, subscribers will have to set their phones manually to benefit from the agreed tariff ceilings but after three months of the law coming into effect, all mobile phone subscribers will automatically benefit from the reduced price.

"After difficult negotiations, we have come up with a viable compromise on the roaming regulation," said parliamentarians Paul Rübig and Angelika Niebler in a joint statement. They had negotiated the compromise on behalf of the European Parliament.

"We are confident that we can find a majority in Parliament's political groups for this compromise. Council now must also accept it," they said.

The German government wasn't immediately available to comment.

The Commission gave a cautious welcome to Tuesday's compromise. "The talks in this morning's meeting were very constructive. Now Council and Parliament will have to resume their internal deliberations. We are confident that a good outcome is within close reach, but the final word belongs to the European Parliament and to the Council," it said in a statement.