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21st Jan 2019

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Estonia completes two out of three priority digital bills

  • Shooting a film in Liege, Belgium. A new audiovisual media services directive would require a certain percentage of content on online video platforms to be European (Photo: Seb)

The Estonian EU presidency has managed to reach political deals on two out of three of the EU's priority digital files during its six-month term - but were unable to close a legislative file on audiovisual media, Estonian official Klen Jaarats told journalists on Thursday (14 December).

The two successes have been in geo-blocking and cross-border parcel delivery. Two months ago, EU leaders had said the files should be concluded before the end of 2017, which coincides with the end of the Estonian presidency.

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  • Klen Jaarats (r) with Estonian prime minister Jueri Ratas (Photo: Council of the European Union)

"We didn't make that much progress on that [audio-visual media] to get it adopted," said Jaarats, who is an adviser to Estonian prime minister Jueri Ratas.

"We had our hopes, but unfortunately had also difficulties in negotiating with the European Parliament. So this is for the Bulgarians," he noted.

On 1 January 2018, Bulgaria takes over the six-month presidency of the Council of the EU – where national governments meet – from Estonia.

Jaarets talked to journalists ahead of Thursday's EU summit, alongside a conference showcasing Estonia's presidency as the "digital presidency".

Baltic priority

Proposed EU legislation that is part of the so-called digital single market (DSM) strategy has been a priority for the Baltic nation.

In September, it organised an EU summit in Tallinn to talk about how 'digital Europe' would look in 2025, and in October EU leaders devoted part of their regular summit in Brussels to digital affairs.

At the end of that October summit, they said in a common declaration that it was "essential" that all legislation proposed by the European Commission as part of the digital single market strategy, which consisted of 24 legislative files in total, should be adopted by the end of 2018, and gave a 31 December 2017 deadline for the three priority files.

"Despite considerable progress, work in this area needs to be accelerated in order to meet this deadline," government leaders said in their conclusions.

Commission proposals can only become law after the council and the European Parliament accept them.

Both institutions nearly always want to amend the proposals, but often not in the same way. They therefore meet for talks to thrash out an agreement between them in talks called 'trilogues'.

EU government leaders at the October summit said that trilogues on three DSM files should be concluded this year: geo-blocking, audio-visual media services and parcel delivery.

Geo-blocking refers to the practice of restricting online access to users based on their geographical location. The EU institutions reached a deal on ending geo-blocking in certain types of online sales last month.

New rules on cross-border parcel delivery, which should make tariffs more transparent, were also agreed - in the early hours of Thursday.

"These new transparency rules will boost public confidence in cross-border delivery services, and are a further step forward in creating a truly single digital market," said Estonian minister for information technology Urve Palo, in a press release.

Not flexible enough

But the third file, on audiovisual media services, remains stuck in trilogue.

The proposal is about bringing the EU's audiovisual media directive in line with the digital age, and promoting European films through quotas for online video platforms.

The bill also deals with online hate speech and protecting minors from possibly harmful advertisements.

When EUobserver pointed out to Estonian 'sherpa' Jaarats that the file was one of the three on which EU leaders demanded a deal before the end of 2017, he replied that "then the same leaders should have been more flexible when it comes to the delivery".

"All the files related to copyright were somehow related to each other. In a way they are tied. Everything related to copyright is a big challenge," he said.

Copyright problems

His colleague Merili Oja, from the Estonian EU embassy in Brussels, confirmed as much, in a panel discussion at Thursday's conference, organised by the Centre for European Policy Studies.

"There are so many different interests involved," she noted.

Oja is involved in finding agreement within the council – which is the step before trilogues – on a separate legislative file on copyright.

At the October summit, EU leaders said that talks on copyright "should be pursued as a matter of priority".

According to an Estonian progress report, published on Wednesday, the file has been discussed at eight meetings of the council's working party on intellectual property. Attached to the report was Estonia's seventh compromise proposal.

On Monday (18 December), Ajo will meet with her Bulgarian counterpart to officially hand over responsibility of the file.

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