Image for Complete reversal and betrayal from major EU Party
Avatar image of Ruth Coustick-Deal

Complete reversal and betrayal from major EU Party

The European People’s Party (EPP) — the largest party in the EU — has announced they are officially backing the Link Tax. It’s an insulting blow to public voices, informed decision-making, and democracy.

The European People’s Party (EPP) — the largest party in the EU — has announced they are officially backing the Link Tax. It’s an insulting blow to public voices, informed decision-making, and democracy.

Despite major concerns from leading EPP figures and thousands of grassroots citizens, the EPP party has decided to go all in for the broad, sweeping “ancillary copyright on steroids” version of the Link Tax, that was proposed by German Commissioner Gunther Oettinger.

It's a shocking u-turn in a tiny space of time.

Let’s just take a moment to understand this story:

A: Tens of thousands of people email their MEPs, repeatedly: yet none of the larger parties come out against the unpopular Link Tax

B: A new MEP is appointed lead for copyright : a few days later the EPP make an official announcement of the party line that parrots the language of the lobbyists.

In fact, the EPP has not even announced a unique position: on Article 11 (the Link Tax), their stance is basically a full endorsement of what the Commission originally proposed. This shows they just haven’t been listening to what European citizens have been telling them about how the Link Tax will censor the Internet and restrict our access to information.

Betrayal background

How did we get here? The EPP’s stance is all the more concerning given that their previous lead on copyright, Therese Comodini Cachia proved herself willing to listen to citizens’ concerns about the Link Tax, and even recommended in an official report that the Commission drop this bad idea.

Sadly, Comodini Cachia has recently been replaced by newcomer & German conservative Axel Voss, after she stepped down from being an MEP after an election in her home country of Malta.

We were pretty suspicious about the arrival of Axel Voss on the scene because he’d not put forward any considered consumer-facing proposals before.

But we wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt; maybe now he was responsible for such a serious issue he would take a balanced approach?

After all, Comodini didn’t go all the way we wanted, but she held balance, she listened to experts and she came to a very different conclusion than what is now the official stance of the EPP.

Then Axel Voss came along and took up the position, without all of the background research and time.  But within weeks now the entire party have decided to support the Link Tax? This stinks.

However, it’s clear that despite the party’s official stance, senior EPP members have grave concerns about the Link Tax. EPP MEPs like Andrea Bocskor have even put forward amendments to delete the Link Tax. In fact we’d gone so far as to praise them publicly for doing so.

It’s frustrating to see the EPP’s leadership failing to listen to the voices of their own senior elected officials — and to the countless EPP supporters who have called for the tax to be dropped.

Picking and choosing facts

Julia Reda on Twitter:

You may remember that the Commission had a public consultation on publisher rights — more commonly known as the Link Tax — on which thousands of people spoke up. The result of this consultation couldn’t be clearer: Only 6% of people wanted the Link Tax.

Just last week Vice-President  Andrus Ansip responded to a Parliamentary question from an MEP about these results. When asked about the percentage of respondents who actually desired ancillary copyright, his reply was:

“around 94% of individual consumers and 81% of the organisations who responded indicated a potential negative impact.”

But then, Commissioner Ansip noted that these numbers were not necessarily “statistically representative” — and declared that therefore it was somehow ok for MEPs to go in the opposite direction.

This begs two important questions: What was the purpose of the consultation if not to listen to the voices of European citizens? And would the same idea of it not being “statistically representative” have been raised if 94% of individual consumers had been in favour of the Commission’s plans?

Ignoring the public, academia & business

Sadly, this pattern of dismissing criticism has been established by the Commission - and the EPP seem to have picked it up here.

The publisher lobby group have been telling everyone their “stats”. There is only one piece of evidence they keep saying though and that is that “not all links are clicked on,” based on a survey of people’s opinions about the news.

The argument is that every link is owed clicks, and that other businesses profit if the links are not clicked on.  

But, the voluntary use of social media, such as Twitter — a service built in large part on the sharing of links — by news agenciesshows that they know not all links can be used. Can you imagine clicking every link you see? It would be impossible.

But by providing people with the option to discover new news and click on that which most appeals to them, aggregators, search engines and social media have become fantastic resources used regularly by expert journalists.

But for the sake of monetising these ‘lost clicks’ the newspaper lobbyists are happy to effectively sacrifice a functioning Internet.

Unfortunately, this misguided argument has been bought hook, line, and sinker by the EPP’s leadership.

The EPP’s new line also flies in the face of expert evidence. For example, the European Copyright Society, made up of scholarly experts on copyright law, firmly condemned ancillary copyright, concluding it “will not in any way benefit the newspaper industry”

Academic Studies have also demonstrated the negative impacts of ancillary copyright, over and over again: A number of research institutes wrote to the European Parliament and Council of Europe raising a series of significant concerns about the legal uncertainty and impact on freedom of expression of the Commission’s proposed law.

And even the publishers themselves are far from united, with many speaking out strongly against the Commission’s proposals. The major Spanish newspaper El País wrote an editorial recently firmly criticising the Commission’s link tax proposals, and how it will harm their bottom line. The digital paper El Diario has also consistently spoken out about how these rules will damage their innovative business model for online journalism, and of course, a coalition of press publishers wrote to the European Commission to ask that a new copyright for press publishers not be introduced in their name.

Unfortunately, so far as the EPP’s top officials are concerned, the narrow interests of a handful of giant newspaper publishers are given the benefit of the doubt time and again. The one group whose voice they seem to respect is the one with the most to gain, and the least neutrality.

It is truly ridiculous to see the party turn their back on the public — and on the many businesses the EPP claims to support. Remember Allied for Startups have condemned the Link Tax, as have many other other business organizations, including NewsNow and PRCAUK.

Put simply, the EPP’s stance reflects the selfish interests of a very narrow subset of European publishers at the expense of other publishers, countless businesses, and the basic rights of European citizens to access information and express themselves freely.

There are several major votes next week, and it’s clear that publishing giants and their allies in the EPP want to ram the Link Tax through as quick as they can, ignoring all the expert research, citizen engagement, and voices of the public.

Of course, this is just the latest twist in what we already knew would be a very long and hard fight indeed. And there's still every chance that we can win this fight in the end -- but we'll need to do our utmost to ensure MEPs from all parties cannot ignore citizen voices.

We can’t let up: Write to your MEP now

Take action now! Sign up to be in the loop Donate to support our work