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20th Sep 2020

EUobserved

EU announces digital deal, but where is the text?

  • The EU institutions promise citizens will “very soon benefit from wider access to online content across the EU” (Photo: Nicolas Nova)

Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. That's what EU diplomats often say when they are asked about the progress of legislative negotiations.

Their PR machines however seem to have a different maxim.

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On Tuesday evening (7 February), a deal was announced that would give EU citizens the right to access films, music, and other digital content to which they have a subscription at home, anywhere in the EU.

The deal was reached behind closed doors between the European Parliament and national governments meeting in Council, brokered by the European Commission, in a process called trilogue.

“Today's agreement will bring concrete benefits to Europeans,” said EU commissioner for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, in a press release.

The Liberal group Alde, whose MEP Jean-Marie Cavada was involved in the negotiations, also said citizens will “very soon benefit from wider access to online content across the EU”.

“This is one of the main achievements accomplished by the European Parliament, who reached an agreement today with the European Commission and Member States representatives on a new piece of legislation on cross-border portability of online content services,” said the Alde press release.

Similar statements were issued by the European Parliament press service, and the Council.

But when EUobserver asked around for the actual text, it emerged that there would be another “clean-up meeting” on Friday, and that the final text “should be ready on Monday” – six days after the press releases. A second source said the text "will be ready at the earliest on Friday".

So why the press releases?

“The deal was done,” a European Parliament source, who was not allowed to be named, told EUobserver on Wednesday.

“The text is not available yet,” she said, noting it had to be run by legal experts.

While it is understandable that experts may need to scrutinise the compromise, the dynamics of the press release mania are a symptom of the undemocratic nature of trilogue meetings.

Until the actual text is published, there is an information imbalance between EU institutions and the press. EU institutions shape the narrative that a deal is done, and journalists hoping to write critical articles will miss the news cycle.

It is tricky to write about new legislation when you have only press releases to go on.

The press releases only focus on the successful outcome of the trilogue, but the devil is in the detail.

In 2015, the press was told that a deal had been reached on net neutrality and roaming surcharges. In fact, basic definitions including the concept of net neutrality itself still had not been agreed.

“I understand it's frustrating,” said a parliament source. “This is how it always unfortunately is.”

And, she added, it is not only the parliament that does this. “Everybody announces the deal.”

In an age where the EU as a whole is struggling to portray itself as relevant, it is understandable that institutions want to jump on any opportunity to brag about the improvements they have made to the daily lives of EU citizens.

Once the text of the digital deal is available, this website will explain just how your daily life will be improved.

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