Thursday

23rd Jan 2020

'Every group split' ahead of EU copyright vote

  • Last August, protesters in Innsbruck showed their fears over unintended consequences of the EU's copyright reform (Photo: Arbeitskreis Vorratsdaten)

The 751 members of the European Parliament are due to make up their minds on how to reform the EU's copyright regime by Wednesday (12 September) - but they are faced with a complex issue, several hundred amendments, and two opposed but intensive lobby campaigns.

One side argues that the bill could kill off freedom of expression online, while the other says that creators are at risk of exploitation by big internet platforms.

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  • The current EU copyright rules date from 2001, which some would argue is the pre-history in internet terms. How to ensure fair remuneration for creators while protecting online expression, is the MEPs' main task. (Photo: Sebastiaan ter Burg)

"From what I know there is a huge split even within the groups," said Jan Krelina, spokesman for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group.

"There are lot of amendments flying around, so it is a complicated situation," he noted.

Last Friday (7 September), Krelina gave a briefing ahead of parliament's Strasbourg week in a press conference, flanked by his colleagues from the other groups – except for the anti-EU Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group, which often is absent from such briefings.

The plenary will discuss the issue on Tuesday, before voting on Wednesday.

Kreilna said that the ECR, the third-biggest group in the parliament with 73 members, would try to arrive at a single position, but would need until Tuesday evening to decide.

Other group spokespersons also could not guarantee that their members would stick to a party line.

"I think it is fair to say that every single group is split," said Ben Leung, spokesman for the far-left GUE/NGL group.

"It is a complex issue. I do believe there are different opinions within our group, but ... it is up to them to decide," said Tom Vandendriessche, referring to the 35 MEPs of the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom.

Wednesday's vote will determine the parliament's position on a text proposed by the European Commission two years ago this week – on 14 September 2016.

A draft version of the parliament's list of proposed changes was drawn up by centre-right German MEP Axel Voss in the parliament's legal affairs committee.

In July, Voss asked whether he could take that text to the representatives of the EU's national governments, to hammer out a final deal about the copyright directive.

But a majority of MEPs determined that they wanted to have the opportunity to add or remove changes known as amendments.

"I don't think things changed a lot from July until now," said Lucian Goleanu, spokesman for the Liberal group, adding that predicting the outcome would be very difficult.

Lada Jurica, spokeswoman for the European People's Party (EPP), noted that a majority of the 218 EPP members sided with Voss last time.

"Considering the clarifications that Mr Voss has made, I expect an even larger proportion in the group will support Voss," said Jurica.

The centre-left Socialists & Democrats will discuss the issue amongst themselves on Monday and Tuesday, according to spokesman Tim Allan.

"We are still looking at all the amendments to come up with a final position," he said.

French Green MEP Michele Rivasi told EUobserver last week that the problem of copyright was "more complex" than it was being portrayed by some.

She spoke after a press conference about the approval process of herbicides like glyphosate.

"We are not in the same debate as glyphosate. It is not [about] scientific expertise, it's [about your] social and political view," Rivasi noted.

One indication of the faultlines not running perfectly along group lines, was the number of amendments proposed by groups of MEPs of different political groups.

"It's a crossparty cooperation on several amendments," said Goleanu.

Trust the expert

These amendments can contain technical language, and so there is fear of unintended consequences.

This gives considerable power to the MEPs who followed the issue on behalf of their group in the legal affairs committee.

In the largest group, the EPP, that would be Axel Voss.

"Our rapporteur is a good lawyer. I will follow his judgement," said Belgian MEP Ivo Belet, who was trained as an economist.

Bas Eickhout, Dutch MEP for the Greens, had a similar approach.

"It is a very technical file," he noted.

"To a large degree I trust Julia, our pirate, who knows everything about this," he said, referring to MEP Julia Reda, the parliament's only Pirate Party member.

20,000 emails

But there may also be MEPs who are swayed by the arguments of lobbyists.

There has been no shortage of email campaigns arguing in one direction or the other.

On one side are the publishers and creators, and on the other online platforms like Google and Wikipedia.

"It is a fight between two powerful groups," said the ECR's Krelina.

"One assistant told me they were receiving 20,000 emails from eight o'clock to twelve o'clock - which is quite a large quantity and difficult to reply," he added.

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