Tuesday

2nd Jun 2020

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 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

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.

News in Brief

  1. Trump threatens to use army to crush unrest in US
  2. Trump wants Russia back in G7-type group
  3. Iran: Fears of second wave as corona numbers rise again
  4. WHO: Overuse of antibiotics to strengthen bacterial resistance
  5. Orban calls EU Commission recovery plan 'absurd'
  6. ABBA's Björn new president of authors' rights federation
  7. Malta and Libya to create anti-migrant 'units'
  8. France reopening bars and parks next week

EU data protection rules abused to censor media

This week the EU's data protection rules (known as the GDPR) are two-years old. While the controversial GDPR was intended to offer greater privacy rights, it has also been abused by some authorities to muzzle a free press.

Malta patrol boat 'intimidates' capsized migrants

Alarm Phone, a hotline service for migrants in distress, has released video footing showing an Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) boat making dangerous manoeuvres next to people swimming for their lives at sea. Malta does not deny the footage.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  3. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  5. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers call for post-corona synergies between economic recovery and green transition

Latest News

  1. Malta fiddles on migrants, as Libya burns
  2. Borrell: EU doesn't need to choose between US and China
  3. Post-Brexit and summer travel talks This WEEK
  4. State-level espionage on EU tagged as 'Very High Threat'
  5. Beethoven vs Virus: How his birthplace Bonn is coping
  6. EU's new migration pact must protect people on the move
  7. Spain takes 'giant step' on guaranteed minimum income
  8. Vestager hits back at Lufthansa bailout criticism

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us