Friday

2nd Dec 2022

EU commissioners at odds over geo-blocking

  • Ansip (l) and Oettinger - both responsible for digital affairs (Photo: European Commission)

Less than a week after EU digital commissioner Andrus Ansip announced he wants to end geo-blocking, his fellow commissioner Gunther Oettinger indicated he was in no rush to abolish the practice of restricting online content based on someone's location.

“We should not throw away the baby with the bath water”, Oettinger said in an interview with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, published Monday (30 March).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

“I want to examine what an opening would mean for the film industry”, the German commissioner noted, adding that “we should protect our cultural diversity”.

The interview comes after Ansip said in a press conference Wednesday (25 March) he wants to end geo-blocking.

“I hate geo-blocking”, noted Ansip, who is one of the commission's vice-presidents, in charge of the portfolio digital single market.

Oettinger, whose portfolio is called digital economy & society, made light of Ansip's remark, by saying: “I hate my alarm clock at five o'clock in the morning.”

“I wouldn't read any contradictions in this”, commission spokesperson Mina Andreeva told this website Monday.

She said that “Ansip and Oettinger worked very closely” to prepare a debate with all commissioners last Wednesday, and that the entire commission that day “agreed that geo-blocking would be tackled”.

However, Andreeva noted that tackling geo-blocking was only agreed “on a general level”, and that the details need to be worked out now.

The details are at the crux of the matter. Geo-blocking is a technical tool that can be used for both 'good and evil'.

Sometimes companies use geo-blocking to abide by the law, for example when a gambling website uses it to make sure its services are unavailable in countries where online gambling is illegal.

And Ansip has also acknowledged that such practices are acceptable.

However, geo-blocking is also used to redirect online shoppers to a local website which offers the same products at higher prices, which can be illegal under EU law.

Another type of geo-blocking occurs when media companies prevent consumers from watching online content like films or tv series in a territory where the company has not acquired licenses. Here, the debate gets murkier.

The commission has agreed to eliminate “unjustified geo-blocking”.

But defining when geo-blocking is justified, and when it is not, will only begin now. The commission is due to publish its digital single market strategy on 6 May. Then it will hold a public consultation on geo-blocking.

Some, like Pirate MEP Julia Reda, oppose “all kinds of artificial barriers on the web and all kinds of website blocking”.

The German deputy argues for an introduction of the so-called 'country of origin principle' for online videos.

“That would mean that companies have to obtain a copyright licence only in the country from which they operate, which has long been the case for TV broadcasting,” Reda told this website in an e-mailed statement.

It is not the first time the two commissioners differ in tone on the same topic.

“We need strong net neutrality rules”, Ansip said Tuesday (24 March), referring to the principle that all data is treated equally by internet providers and intermediaries. “We need an open internet for consumers. No blocking or throttling”.

A few weeks earlier, Oettinger called net neutrality a “Taliban-like issue”.

“This is not the first time Oettinger has contradicted the Commission and undermined its stated consensus in his home country's media”, noted Reda, and referred to it as the "latest of his PR missteps".

Oettinger referred to net neutrality as a “Taliban-like issue”
Copyright file moves to pro-digital commissioner

Following a reshuffle, Estonian commissioner Ansip temporarily takes over the file from German Guenther Oettinger, who is seen as more friendly towards copyright holders.

What digital barriers do Europeans still face?

"Mom! I did something illegal!" - as the EU gets set to unveil its new strategy on liberalising the digital single market, what online barriers do Europeans still face?

Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Over the last 10 years, Portugal has given 1,470 golden visas to people originating from countries whose tax-transparency practices the EU finds problematic. But unlike common practice in other EU states with similar programmes, Portugal has not implemented "due diligence".

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. Belarus dictator's family loves EU luxuries, flight data shows
  2. How Berlin and Paris sold-out the EU corporate due diligence law
  3. Turkey's EU-funded detention centres ripe with abuse: NGO
  4. In green subsidy race, EU should not imitate US
  5. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  6. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  7. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  8. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us