Friday

21st Sep 2018

Oettinger stirs controversy ahead of new role as digital commissioner

  • Upcoming EU digital chief floats Google tax idea and causes trouble (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Recent statements by the next EU digital commissioner Gunther Oettinger on imposing a special tax on Google has drawn carefully-worded criticism from within the current EU commission.

Oettinger, in an interview with German newspaper Handelsblatt earlier this week, floated the idea of making Google pay a levy in compensation for using copyrighted content to draw traffic and generate revenue.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

“If Google takes intellectual property from the EU and makes use of it, the EU can protect this property and demand that Google pay for it,” said Oettinger.

But a spokesperson for outgoing EU digital commissioner Neelie Kroes has other ideas.

“It's not OK to turn a company into a punching bag and I wouldn't expect the new Commission to do so,” Kroes’ spokesperson Ryan Heath said in an email on Thursday (30 October).

He said copyright changes, which limit access through legal or price barriers, would face severe backlash.

“Changes to copyright will need to be focussed on maximising access to content rather than limiting it in some way,” he noted.

He pointed out that the commission's job is to solve market failures and enforce rules, not target companies.

He also cautioned against viewing search engines as something that steals audiences away from content providers like news outlets.

“There are many legal and social issues Google needs to address, and the lesson of the last 10 years is that tech companies would be wise to address them before new legislation and antitrust cases are started,” he said.

The issue is sensitive in Germany after economics minister Sigmar Gabriel backed top German publishing houses, including Axel Springer, in their legal action against Google for not paying when linking their news content.

The Financial Times reported Oettinger is mulling changes to copyright rules, similar to German law, that could include giving publishers the right to license their web content for others to use.

Oettinger said this includes defining what intellectual property is, setting out the rights of creators, and compensation for use.

Another problem is that Germany’s new ancillary copyright law aimed at making the Internet giant pay up to publishers is said to have backfired.

Berlin-based VG Media, a collection society, enforces the ancillary law.

But the firm is collecting money from all news aggregators and search engines except Google.

Google was granted a waiver when it agreed to strip down snippets to headlines. The anti-Google law is said to have instead further strengthened its market dominance.

German pirate party MEP Julia Reda in her blog warns against Oettinger attempting to reform EU copyright rules based on a similar German model.

“If that is the case, it would be the worst possible start for the long awaited European copyright reform,” she notes.

Oettinger’s diverging views could lead to a clash after he makes the official switch from EU energy tsar to EU commissioner for the digital economy.

The transition distinction was already used as an excuse by the EU commission not to publicly clarify Oettinger’s comments on Thursday.

Asked whether the Google tax is the German politician’s personal ambition or part of a larger plan hatched from within Jean-Claude Juncker’s commission, the commission declined to answer.

“All I can say is that Juncker’s commission will take up office on around midnight on Friday,” said the incoming commission spokesperson.

Investigation

VW lobbyist met German EU commissioner

VW spent €2.8m on lobbying in Brussels in 2015. Earlier this year, it met with commissioner Oettinger to discuss "diesel emissions", even though it's not his portfolio.

Focus

EU commissioners at odds over geo-blocking

EU digital commissioner Andrus Ansip and his fellow commissioner Gunther Oettinger are at odds with one another over the need to abolish the practice of restricting online content based on someone's location.

Opinion

Building a Europe more resilient to terrorism

One year to the day since the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, the commissioner for home affairs spells out what action the EU is taking now to protect against further attacks.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  2. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  3. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  4. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  5. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says
  6. Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU
  7. Libya keeps coast guards rejected by the EU
  8. EU divisions on menu at Salzburg dinner

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us