THE EU isn’t exciting, on the face of it. It’s a thoughtful, procedure-heavy organisation with lots of checks and balances. It is about process and accountability, not drama and flamboyance. That makes it easy for anti-EU organisations and individuals to jump in and misinterpret what’s going on.
So, in the spirit of adventure, I’m going to take something that folk have been emailing me about, and use it as a primer for how the EU works. After all, everyone loves the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, right?
First published in The National, 06 July 2018
Well, apparently not. When I say people have been emailing me about it, I mean folk from all over the UK, courtesy of a few mass lobbying campaigns. Lobbying has its place and anything that makes it easier for people to be in regular communication with their elected representatives is only a good thing. However, sometimes the facts can get a little foggy along the way, especially among those predisposed to think badly of the EU.
Some emails appeared panicky, suggesting that MEPs were about to nod through censorship that would lock down the internet, and some were just … well, some of these messages were definitely post-watershed!
Happily, Parliamentvoted yesterday to reject the mandate on the grounds that it needed more work to strike a proper balance.
While there are some welcome words on fair remuneration for creators and some ideas on how to bridge the creativity gap, I think they could have gone further and I’m also not sure they would have lasted long in the negotiations to come.
Elsewhere, I do not think concerns over the role of enforcement were fully thought through, with potential for private corporations, chiefly the major platforms, to play a far more active role in making policy rather than implementing laws we democratically agree.
I do not believe concerns raised by researchers and libraries that this could make their functions more difficult have been sufficiently addressed. More generally, I remain concerned that access to information, rights to privacy and freedom of expression could need to be massively undermined in order to protect private economic rights of creators and their agents.
So now it’s back to the drawing board and we’ll have a proper full debate again in September. But you may be wondering why we had to bring it up in the first place.
Let’s take a step back. The Digital Single Market is a policy that covers digital marketing, buying and selling online, and telecommunication.
It’s a huge success because of EU regulation; the economies of scale allow us to think and work as a bloc of 500 million people, the only size that can compete with the United States or China. We have to get the regulations right, and keep these regulations under review.
After all, sometimes it feels like technology is evolving much faster than the law! So the European Commission proposes reforms – effectively updates to the existing law. These proposals then go to a committee of MEPs who, aided by specialist advisers, people who eat, sleep and breathe this particular niche, go through the proposals with a fine-tooth comb, and then give it a vote of approval or send it back to the drawing board. In the copyright reform case, the Legal Affairs Committee voted in favour – a bit of a surprise, I have to say, but that’s only the first stage.
The Legal Affairs Committee is now going into negotiations with the Council (formed by representatives from all 28 member state governments) to find a compromise that works for everyone. Once this compromise has been reached, it comes to the European Parliament, where we vote in favour or reject it if it’s not good enough.
And there you have it! In a nutshell, the European Parliament and the Council amend, approve, or reject any proposals that come from the Commission. There are 28 commissioners, each one appointed by a member state government. You have six democratically-elected MEPs for Scotland. And there’s a UK Governmentthat, well, we didn’t vote for in Scotland – but that’s why independence in Europe has been the SNPvision for so long.
The point is, there are lots of stages to proceed through before a proposal becomes law. Nothing gets “imposed” or nodded through. It’s all open and transparent, and folk can easily get in touch to make their views known. And likewise, MEPs can explain their own reasoning.
On Article 11, I opposed the proposal of the European Commission to create a neighbouring right, which would oblige anyone using snippets of journalistic content online to obtain a 20-year licence from the publishers.
I have to admit, I’m concerned about the potential repercussions of such a proposal, in particular the risk that it could limit freedom of expression and access to information for individuals.
On Article 13, I explicitly rejected the introduction of mandatory upload filters on platforms hosting “large amounts” of user-uploaded content (such as YouTube), for the simple reason that such software cannot differentiate between copyright infringements and legal use, meaning that perfectly legal content would be taken down!
As you can see, this is a legal process with a beginning and an end, and one in which democracy plays the central role.
This is not some archaic Westminster process, neither is it an “out-of touch-elite” imposing its will upon us. We are represented in the process, and we will have our say. What could be better? Well … independence in Europe for a start.