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 The EPC Members' Newsletter

 
Legislative up-date 68 Month - March 1998 

In this issue we cover:

  • MEPs try to push through the tobacco ad ban at any cost
  • Change of Heart on media ownership?
  • Bangemann woos the US to support a Global Charter for electronic services
  • MEPs delay final discussion on convergence until the autumn


TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

1.0 MEDIA OWNERSHIP

1.1 Commission - Change of Heart over Policy on Media Ownership?

2.0 ADVERTISING POLICY

2.1 Council and Parliament - Tobacco Advertising Directive

2.2 Commission - Alcohol Advertising on Future Policy Agenda

2.3 Car Advertising

2.4 Commission - Commercial Communications Paper Adopted

3.0 INTERNET REGULATION

3.1 Transparency Directive on new information society services

3.2 Council and Parliament- Protection of Minors

4.0 COPYRIGHT

4.1 Council - Working Group discusses copyright proposal

4.2 Legal Protection of Conditional Access Services

5.0 AUDIOVISUAL

5.1 Analogue to Digital 

5.2 V-chip study Published

6.0 INFORMATION SOCIETY AND CONVERGENCE

6.1 Council, Commission and Parliament - Initial Discussions on Convergence

6.2 Commission - Action Plan on Promotion of the Safe Use of the Internet

6.3 Commission - Proposal for International Communications Charter

6.4 Electronic Commerce 

7.0VAT

8.0 ENVIRONMENT

8.1 Paper Industry - Discussions Advance on Graphic Part of Paper Chain

8.0 GENERAL

8.1 Employee information and consultation

8.2 UK Implementation of European Social Legislation

8.3 Commission - Industry Forum to discuss Corporate Governance

8.4 Commission - New Version of Merger Regulation

General Enquiries: Angela Mills

Telephone: +44 (0)1865 310 732

Facsimile: +44 (0)1865 310 739

Press Enquiries: Heidi Lambert

Telephone/facsimile +32 2 735 3603

 

1.0 Media Ownership

1.1 Commission - Change of Heart over Policy on Media Ownership?

Commissioner Mario Monti's spokesperson has stated that the changing market and development of new services has meant that guidelines or a code of conduct could be proposed by the Commission to deal with the issue of media ownership, rather than a Directive. Meanwhile DG XV officials claim that the directive is not dead.

2.0 Advertising Policy

2.1 Council and Parliament - Tobacco Advertising Directive

The political agreement of the Health Ministers last December was formalised by the Research Council of Ministers which voted on the Common Position on the draft Tobacco Advertising Directive on 12 February. Germany and Austria voted against the Directive, which will now undergo a Second Reading by the European Parliament. The German delegation issued a declaration at the Research Council, which paves the way for a challenge to the legality of the directive before the European Court of Justice. 

The Environment Committee of the Parliament has chosen Christian Cabrol, MEP (UPE, France) – a leading heart surgeon, as Rapporteur. Despite Commission confidence that the file will progress unhindered through the Second Reading, Markus Ferber, MEP (EPP, Germany) has issued a communiqué questioning the special exemption offered to Greece and the legal basis of the proposed Directive. However, during the first discussion on the proposal in the Environment Committee on 17 March, the Rapporteur made it clear that it would be politically expedient simply to support the Common Position, with no amendment, so as not to jeopardise the legislation. Only the German MEPs spoke out against this position. Mrs Roth-Behrendt asked how the EU could just ban the advertising of something that was bad for you and warned of the repercussions for other product categories like sweets, alcohol, cars, etc. She asked Mr Cabrol if he had examined the implications for the media but he failed to answer the question. A deadline for amendments of 31 March was set although the Rapporteur is likely to reject any that are tabled. The Committee is due to take a final vote on Cabrol's report on 22 April before passing it to plenary session in May. The EPC is objecting to this approach which takes no account of the views of interested parties and is requesting that Parliament debates all views democratically and openly. The Draftsman for the Legal Affairs Committee will be Janssen van Raay (EPP, Netherlands). Other advisory Committees on Economic Affairs and Culture were also due to be offering opinions although Ken Collins is trying to prevent this. EPC briefing papers are available on request. 

2.2 Commission - Alcohol Advertising on Future Policy Agenda

Commissioner Padraig Flynn has stated in a speech on Public Health Policy beyond 2000 that promotion and of alcohol could fall within the actions undertaken in the domain of disease prevention and health promotion. It is unclear at present how the Commissioner's reference will translate into policy although the Commission is already discussing these issues with Member State experts. A draft set of guidelines on the marketing of designer pre-mixed drinks such as "alcopops" is under discussion which might lead to a Recommendation and Codes of Practice in the Member States.

Meanwhile the Commission has not received a reply yet from the French Government to their reasoned opinion on the Loi Evin although a response is expected in the next month or so. 

2.3 Car Advertising

Discussions continue between the Commission and the advertising industry over proposals to impose a code of practice on car advertising on the industry. It now seems that "voluntary guidelines" will be agreed and that it will be left to the self-regulatory bodies to implement them.

2.4 Commission - Commercial Communications Paper Adopted

The Communication which follows up the Green Paper on Commercial Communications was adopted by the Commission on 4 March (available on request). The Commission has agreed to target four main policy areas: protection of minors, unfair competition laws and associated matters, sponsorship, claims and misleading advertising, and redress systems. A transparent proportionality assessment methodology will be used to consider existing restrictions on advertising. A Commercial Communications "Committee of Experts" comprising representatives of the Member States will exchange views, deliver opinions on cross-border communication policy issues, provide data on national measures and co-operate where necessary with other committees. The Commission will be setting up a Web Site to post information about meetings and work of the Expert Group and a team of three officials will provide a central point of contact for industry, consumer and Member States on matters to do with advertising and other forms of commercial communications. Industry and other interested parties have been invited by the Commission to establish "shadow groups" to help brief the expert group and the Commission. EPC is setting one up the press in co-operation with ENPA and FAEP.

3.0 Internet Regulation

3.1 Transparency Directive on new information society services

The Council of Ministers has agreed a Common Position on a directive which is aimed at preventing new regulatory barriers at national level in information society services. Member States will be required to notify the Commission of any proposed regulation in this field and a standstill period of four months will be imposed before rules can be implemented. The European Parliament will be giving the directive its Second Reading within the next three months.

3.2 Council and Parliament- Protection of Minors

The Audiovisual Council has continued discussions on the draft Recommendation concerning the protection of minors and human dignity in audiovisual and information services. There is consensus among Member States to take a self-regulatory approach, but also disagreement over whether the Annex is too prescriptive. As yet unresolved is the extent to which intervention by authorities may be justified. 

The proposal is also being considered by the Parliament, where Phillip Whitehead has drafted a report for the (lead) Culture Committee. Whitehead has called for a systematic review to monitor self-regulatory frameworks two years after the recommendation enters into force, to identify whether government regulation is required. He also recommends common labelling of content guidelines by Member States. The Committee will vote on the draft and amendments on 21/22 April. However, if there are no amendments to the draft, the vote may be held earlier. 

4.0 Copyright

4.1 Council - Working Group discusses copyright proposal

The Intellectual Property Council Working Group has started the long process of discussing the draft Directive on Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society. Discussions are also progressing in the European Parliament's lead committee, Legal Affairs, where Mr. Barzanti (PES, Italy) has been selected as Rapporteur. Not surprisingly, these discussions have already faltered on the vexed question of exceptions.

4.2 Legal Protection of Conditional Access Services

The draft directive on the legal protection of services based on, or consisting of conditional access systems, is being looked at by MEPs. The draft Report by Georgios Anastassopoulos (EPP, Greece) was discussed at a Legal Affairs Committee on 25 February and the vote will be on 14/16 April. The Rapporteur wants to see some radical amendments to broaden the definition of illicit devices and infringing activities so that all types of device and activities are covered, including advertising, sale and distribution of anything that can circumvent encryption services protecting copyright protected works. Some MEPs have been supporting the EPC position that rights of redress against circumvention of conditional access systems should be extended to the rights of the individual rights holders whose works are carried by the systems but the Commission is resisting these moves to extend the scope of the directive.

Phillip Whitehead's (PES, UK) amendments in favour of viewers' rights to free channels have been adopted by the EP Committee on Culture. EMAC adopted an Opinion by Friedrich Wolf (Greens, Germany) on 24 February.

5.0 Audiovisual

5.1 Analogue to Digital 

In a recent speech to American film and television producers, Commissioner Oreja said that he would be putting together a plan for the phasing out of analogue services throughout Europe so that there is a smooth transition to digital transmission. He is afraid that without proper coordination by the Commission, fragmentation will lead to competitive disadvantages for European industry.

5.2 V-chip study Published

The Commission has published a call for tenders and has completed the distribution of application documents for a study on the advantages/disadvantages of measures aimed at facilitating control by parents or teachers over programmes which minors may watch. 

This study was called for in the revised Broadcasting Directive, under Article 22, and will focus on setting up appropriate classifications systems and encouraging family television and other educational measures. It is due to be completed later this year.

6.0 Information Society

6.1 Council, Commission and Parliament - Initial Discussions on Convergence

The Audiovisual and Telecoms Working Groups, in line with the ‘double-track approach being taken by the Council on this proposal, have both held an initial exchange of views on the Green Paper. Convergence will be discussed at Ministerial level during the Informal Audiovisual Council in March and at the EU/UK Presidency conference in Birmingham in April. Formal positions from Member States have not emerged yet, although content issues are of equal concern to the technical issues. Member States also agreed that regulation should be based on existing structures rather than create an entirely new framework. The Telecommunications Working Group in the Council will not discuss the Green Paper further during the UK Presidency. 

MEPs in the Economic Committee have looked at the Green Paper on convergence but many MEPs wanted to wait until after the results of the consultation process were available before making specific recommendations and the Chairman proposed a final vote on 23 September to allow for this delay. Meanwhile, Parliament's Rapporteur, Finnish socialist MEP Paasilinna warned MEPs that convergence would deepen divisions in society. Although not all content should be treated the same in terms of regulation he was keen to preserve high levels of (content) regulation in the broadcasting sector. There was a distinct lack of clear thinking from those who spoke and confusion as to whether they were supposed to be focusing on the technological side or on the content side as well. One MEP warned against the "market-utopia of self-regulation" but most seemed to feel that regulation should be targeted to real barriers, particularly market control exercised by dominant players. 

Hearings for industry associations and company representatives will be held on 26, 30 and 31 March. The Commission will follow up the Green paper with a Summary Report of reactions by the end of July. A Communication of some sort will follow by the end of 1998.

6.2 Commission - Action Plan on Promotion of the Safe Use of the Internet

The Commission has adopted an Action Plan on safe use of the internet which is under discussion tion at the Council. The Commission hopes that the Action Plan will be adopted at the 19 May Telecoms Council and has requested draft proposals for three call for Proposals to suggest projects on the following:-

    • Setting up a European network of hotlines
    • Content filtering and rating systems
    • Preparatory awareness actions 
6.3 Commission - Proposal for International Communications Charter
On 4 February, the Commission adopted a proposal to conclude an International Communications Charter in 1999. These proposals were presented to the EU Telecoms Ministers on 26 February when Ministers asked the Commission to submit a progress report on the initiative in May. The Charter will recognise the work of existing international organisations, promote the participation of the private sector, and would be neither legally-binding, nor establish an international authority. Commissioner Bangemann presented his ideas to industry leaders in the States on 6 March where they were broadly welcomed. 

The Commission is expressing concern that divergent approaches to regulation in different countries will hinder the development of an ‘on-line' economy, and intends to identify problems and solutions through a series of Round Table consultations with industry, Member State experts, international partners and consumer groups. Identified risk areas include on-line global advertising with national trademarks, and the legal battles arising over the domain name system with respect to national rightholders sharing the same trademark.

The Commission is also concerned that the US is gaining too much control over the development of the Internet and will be responding to the US's calls for comments on its proposals to reform the internet's naming and address system. Deadline for comments is 23 March.

6.4 Electronic Commerce

The EP Committee on Environment debated the report by Erica Mann, MEP (PES, Germany) on Electronic Commerce during the final week of February. The Rapporteur has called on the Commission to bring forward a proposal for a directive as soon as possible. Alan Donnelley stated that he was "nervous" about proposing rules on the sector, although Wolf (Greens, Germany) disagreed with him. The vote in Committee will be on 24 March.

The European Commission is working on a text for a directive(s) which should be ready in May or June. It will deal with a whole range of legal issues including the question of liability of service providers for content and the country of establishment. 

7.0 VAT

The Commission is working on how to deal with the differing rates of VAT and is expected to come forward with new proposals towards the end of the year. Member States seem to be happy with the categories which already have reduced rates applying to them but the Commission wants to go ahead with compulsory rates. 

8.0 Environment

8.1 Paper Industry - Discussions Advance on Graphic Part of Paper Chain

The Commission was informed by CEPI in January of the shared-responsibility talks which might possibly result in a voluntary cross-sector environmental agreement. The Commission will monitor the progress of these talks in future months.

It is likely that the Commission will expect industry to achieve a minimum target of 50% recovery and recycling, the requirement outlined in last year's Commission Communication on Environmental Agreements.

There is a possibility of the Commission eventually bringing forward an initiative on recycled content. However, this will not happen in the near future. 

9.0 General

9.1 Employee information and consultation

Commissioner Flynn is threatening to bring forward binding legislation on information and consultation of employees following the collapse of talks between the social partners. He says that it is necessary to have basic rules for information and consultation of workers that they are established uniformly throughout the EU.

The Social Partners are meanwhile due to start discussing fixed-term contracts within the framework agreement on part-time work.

9.2 UK Implementation of European Social Legislation

The ‘Social Agreement' which was incorporated in to the Amsterdam Treaty has still to be ratified by Member States. It is anticipated that the whole ratification process will be over by late 1998 or early 1999. The UK hope to achieve this by June 1998, in time before the end of their Presidency of the Council. The Treaty has been agreed in the Commons, and now awaits assent by the Lords. The UK has informally agreed to implement existing social legislation (parental leave, works councils, part-time work) in advance of Treaty ratification and is in the process of seeing this through the UK Parliament.

9.3 Commission - Kirch and Bertelsmann Alliance Investigation

The Commission has opened a four-month investigation of the proposed digital television alliance's compatibility with EC law on competition. 

9.4 Commission - Industry Forum to discuss Corporate Governance 

DG XV (Internal Market) will establish a forum to discuss corporate governance issues, which will involve the selection of a maximum of 20 industry representatives at any one time, depending on the subject to be discussed. The logistical details have still to be decided in the Commission, and a budget line will be proposed to Commissioners. 

9.5 Commission - New Version of Merger Regulation 

The Commission has adopted a ‘procedural regulation', updating the rules for notification, hearings and analysis of merger cases, as well as an interpretative notice on the new provisions. The changes to the Merger Regulation involved: 

  • alteration of the minimum turnover requirements for a ‘one-stop-ship' review of merger cases;
  • deletion of references to ‘cooperative' and ‘concentrative' joint ventures, in favour of the inclusion of all ‘full-function' joint ventures within the scope of the regulation.
 

  

For further information please contact: 

  

General Enquiries: Angela Mills 

Telephone: +44 (0)1865 310 732 

Facsimile: +44 (0)1865 310 739 

Press Enquiries: Heidi Lambert 

Telephone/facsimile +32 2 735 3603