Tag Archives: EU

European Union wins Nobel Peace Prize (Name one thing the EU has ever done for us #2)

After the news made my day, I figured I had get a short comment out. Today it was announced, that the European Union will be awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Besides expressing my appreciation for this, my comment serves a second purpose: After my first answer to the challenge in the title, here’s another answer to what the European Union has ever done for us:

It has brought peace.

Yes, as lame and old as the argument seems. The European Union and its preceding steps of European Integration have brought the continent an exceptionally long peaceful period. As a reminder, please have a look at the “list of conflicts in Europe“, which the fine folks at Wikipedia have so nicely brought together. Start a a time of your choosing, whenever you think the countries you’re interested in have been constituted in borders similar to today. Then scroll down through decades and centuries of bloodshed. Our allies of today basically where at each others throats at any given moment. Please note the absence of interstate conflicts between countries who joined the Union or its predecessors during the second half of the 20th century and later.

War between EU member states seems so unthinkable today, that this peace is sadly often taken for granted by many European citizens.

The Nobel Peace Price and the media coverage about it will hopefully remind a few of those people of how extraordinary and grand this achievement really is.

Recommended Reading on Eurocrisis and Single Market: Dullien / ECFR 64

In his current policy memo for the European Council on Foreign Relations, titled Why the Euro Crisis Threatens the European Single Market, Sebastian Dullien thinks through several possible outcomes of the Euro crisis and their respective impact on the Single Market.

The picture he paints should be considered by all those in the “richer” European countries who cling to the populist notion of “solving” the Eurocrisis by simply throwing all the weaker economies out of the Eurozone.

He makes a convincing argument about the often-neglected interconnectedness of the European Monetary Union and the Single Market, as he presents the three options he thinks realistic for the future of the Eurozone. In (very) short form, the options are as follows:

A complete Euro break-up would completely shatter the single market, as member states reimbursed with power over a new national currency would resort to completely nationally oriented methods of consolidating their finances, while damaging the single market. The Commission couldn’t do much to keep them in line, as a country that has left the Euro has either already left the Union, or is in violation of European law reintroducing their own currency. This would increasingly diminish the European instutions’ legitimacy and at the same time also produce negative spin-offs for the Schengen area, as the large stream of migrants from crisis countries is being stopped by nationalist political forces, who were strengthened in the process.

For a “muddling-through”-approach, which is what he considers most current attempts at solving the crisis, he predicts a “more shallow” single market, as he sees it as disintegrating the banking- and finance sector. Distinctions in finance along national borders also means nationally oriented financing of businesses, which distorts the market by punishing or rewarding companies for their location. This would also prompt migration to the better-off countries, albeit not as badly as in the first scenario, prompting the same negative side-effects for the Schengen area.

As a third approach, Prof. Dullien presents a deeper integration, a step toward true federalism, including EU-level financial and economic oversight, maybe including a Financial Transaction Tax. This, he says, would solve many of the current problems of participating countries. However, this comes at the price of splitting the market for financial services along currency lines, as countries like the United Kingdom opt-out, and would possibly even prompt a recalculation of their benefits from the EU, resulting in an exit of the UK. Thus, this scenario would keep the single market, even integrate it further, but only do so for a smaller single market.

Prof. Dullien makes convincing arguments and definitely clarifies the gravity and complexity of the situation as it is, far beyond simplistic and populist paroles of “let’s throw the PIIGS out, and we’ll be fine!”.

However, there might be a perspective to the smaller single market, his third option, which might not make it seem quite so small. As a recent New York Times comment by Steven Erlanger elaborated, there is currently a tendency of European regions to aspire secession from their national entities. Of particular interest is the fact, that the UK, which, as Prof. Dullien also notes, the member state most likely opposed to fiscal integration, is among those with such a region: In Scotland, for example, there has been a tendency to favour being part of Europe over being part of the UK. Mr. Erlanger points out in his comment, that the Scottish National Party’s slogan still is “Scotland in Europe”, even though they are coming to regret it amidst rising anti-european opinions.

Rising regional influences aside, even David Cameron’s government seems to be moving away from preparing a referendum on the EU in terms of in-or-out, as they contemplate how to keep EU membership, but make fiscal union another part of the two-speed Europe. Consequently, I believe that the last word on the United Kingdom as a whole within the EU and the coming changes to EU structures may not yet have been spoken in this matter.


Read Sebastian Dullien’s paper to learn about possible consequences of the Eurocrisis for the Single Market – Even though I don’t see the UK’s reaction in his third scenario as clear-cut as he does.

EU Digital Agenda moves ahead with collecting society harmonisation

On his blog, Christian Engström, MEP for the Swedish Pirate Party, discusses the upcoming Collective Rights Management Directive, which has just been presented by the European Commission. The directive aims at harmonisation of national royalty collecting societies, as a step to facilitate the Internal Market on the internet, an area where it at this time still has serious shortcomings, as I have commented before.

As Mr. Engström rightfully notes, this is an improvement over the status quo and might really shake up the intransparent structures and the monopoly of rights some national collecting societies currently have. It should be supported.

I also agree with his criticism of the directive. If the author of a work cannot be found within 5 years to be paid his royalties – the work is then considered “orphaned” – the collecting societies should not be allowed to simply keep the money. This would set the wrong incentives and probably weaken the effort to actually search for the rights-holder. The collecting societies have to lose the money in that case, and Mr. Engström’s proposal to donate it to cultural archives and museums in need of funding seems a good idea, though the details of who is eligible might be tricky. Mr. Engström proposes to leave this to the member states, but since the whole idea is to not only make a European Internal Market but a common “cultural zone”, maybe there should be a central European office where cultural institutions and maybe even new up-and-coming creative projects can apply for receiving some of those funds?

The draft directive mentions a due date for payouts of 12 months after the financial year, which is of course ridiculously long. As services like flattr show, flexible distribution of funds between consumers and creators is easily possible on a monthly basis. The distribution societies do of course have a few more transactions to process, but if a small start-up can handle millions of transactions a month, the big collecting societies should easily be able to put up a bigger server or rent some cloud resources to handle billions.

Still, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Though it should not stop here. Like the first draft which I discussed here before, the provisions of the directive do not state an obligation for multi-territorial licensing, it just compels member states to provide specific favourable conditions for this to happen. Should a national collecting society decide not to license multi-territorially, the option to do this falls back to the rights-holder. In many cases, the rights holder will not be the artist, but a record label. And as I explained in my earlier post, they have commercial reasons (regional price discrimination) to refrain from granting a Europe-wide license. In fact, the directive acknowledges that territorial licensing is also grounded in commercial choices in it’s first chapter (page 3). So for many pieces of media, the Digital Internal Market still won’t be realised through the directive.

The goal should be a Cassis-de-Dijon ruling for digital media. The analogy is of course not completely correct as it’s always difficult to compare tangible and digital goods. What I mean by it is that, I, as a consumer or possibly even reseller, should be able to import mp3 or other files that are legally sold in one member state into another via the internet. This is not possible due to nationally-centred licensing, but the button on my favourite mp3 website doesn’t say License. It says Buy. And if I buy something in one member state (the transaction takes place on their server), I own it and should be allowed to take it with me across borders.

However, even though the implementation of the current draft of the Collective Rights Management directive would not bring about this situation, it definitely improves the conditions for forming a true Digital Internal Market in the near future.



The criticism I put forth about the earlier draft of the Collective Rights Management Directive still holds true, but Christian Engström and all like-minded MEPs are right to generally support the Directive (notwithstanding the points he rightfully criticizes). It is a step in the right direction and should facilitate further steps toward a Digital Internal Market.




Recommended reading on eurocrisis: Eurodaemmerung, Foreign Affairs Sept/Oct 2012

Most media coverage of the eurocrisis comes from the national press of the countries concerned. This has the effect of forcing a national perspective on the issue, ranging from a mere focus of what “one’s own” politicians did or said – in almost all publications – to populist tendencies of renationalisation and euroscepticism – in the tabloids.

The current issue of Foreign Affairs includes a collection of comments called Eurodaemmerung, which offers an outside-looking-in approach, which breaks out of the fixed them-and-us scheme that is so entrenched in inner-Eurozone media coverage. The authors of the Eurodaemmerung-articles all are distinguished British or American academics and / or former government officials. In their view, the Eurozone is all “them”, without any animosities about who has to pay for whom or who forces this and that set of measures on whom. This makes their texts on the subject more worthwhile to read than everything that has come out of the newsrooms of News Corp.  and Axel Springer owned press organs over the last few years combined.

Short abstracts of the articles follow, to give you a better idea what to expect.

The Crisis of Europe by Timothy Garton Ash

Ash’s take on the crisis starts out with a thorough historical interpretation of European integration, stating that the current mixture of national orientation of the electorate and the way national politicians handle the two levels end up being “an odd way to run a continent”. He several reasons for this, including a missing European compatriotism and Germany struggling with it’s own course for the common currency which it pushed for itself under Kohl. With the historic driving forces for European integration gone, a Europe of freedom and prosperity is taken for granted and therefore suffers from it’s own success, a state which is not easily fixed.

Why the Euro Will Survive by C. Fred Bergsten

Bergsten considers the measures taken so far to save the Euro as overall successful, and envisions that “[w]hen the dust settles, the common currency, and indeed the entire project of European integration, is likely not only to survive but to emerge even stronger.” The monetary union is described as a half-hearted solution, which was born out of political compromise instead of thorough conceptualisation and therefore lacks a more complete common financial and economic system. He believes however, that capability to save the debtor countries and the currency is given. It is a question of political will, and a  struggle, in which every creditor tries to get the best deal for himself. On the bottom line, he finds that this “game of political chicken” has thus far been successful, and should in the medium-term be followed up by a program to re-stimulate growth, which he outlines.

Germany’s Unsustainable Growth by Adam Tooze

Tooze talks about how austerity measures , which the German administration currently tries to export into other Eurozone countries, came to be domestically. For sustainable growth, he argues, investment is needed and, thanks to record-low interest rates at which Germany can currently borrow money, also easily possible, were it not for the constitutional debt-ceiling which the country gave itself shortly before the crisis. Austerity should only be used as “a form of shock therapy”, with “meaningful investments” as a follow-up.


Obviously, the articles are open to criticism. For example, the articles (with the exception of Ash) hardly take the European Union system into consideration as something that goes beyond an intergovernmental international organization (that is, an agreement between sovereign nations). One might argue, that this is not really relevant for the issue at hand, as it is in fact largely handled intergovernmentally. Yet, this is a downside of a non-European perspective and also an effect of the tradition the journal Foreign Affairs itself has to be seen in. In the transatlantic constellation between Western Europe and the United States, the EU as such plays a supporting role at best, with its common external action focused elsewhere.

Nonetheless, the perspectives offered in the three Eurodaemmerung articles are exceptionally interesting, and in Foreign Affairs find a journalistically refined way out of purely academic literature. I recommend to pick up a copy of the Sept/Oct issue of Foreign Affairs from your local news stand or, if you prefer digital over dead tree, get it for your Kindle / tablet with Kindle app, or as a PDF-file from foreignaffairs.com.


The current issue of Foreign Affairs has three very interesting comments on the eurocrisis, which are not tainted by a national “them vs. us” attitude as mainstream media coverage is. Go read them.

Name one thing the EU has ever done for us!

The recent Eurobarometers show the European Union’s approval ratings taking a hard dive. As the eurocrisis rages on, blunt euroscepticism and tendencies to glorify the prospect of renationalisation seem rampant in discussions online and offline. The challenge that I chose as a title for this post is tossed around a lot.

I say:

Challenge Accepted!

Disclaimer: I do not really blame the people who are not already aware of what I’m about to elaborate. Among others, first and foremost, I blame nationally oriented journalism.

The European Union has given citizens an unprecedented influence on international agreements.

The current version of the EU Treaties, commonly known as the Lisbon Treaty, prescribes that international agreements which the European Union (acting institution in this case is usually the Commission) negotiates have to be approved by the European Parliament (EP). So far, so usual. And about time, you might  rightfully think, as it has been customary for international agreements to be ratified by national parliaments for quite a while now. You might also think that this does not constitute a larger degree of influence than the national parliamentary control did before. After all, it’s both nothing but a representative, legitimate parliament doing the approving, with options for citizens to petition it’s members like you would expect. There are a few important differences between an agreement negotiated by the Commission and ratified by the EP and an agreement negotiated by a national government and ratified by a national parliament, though.

Most importantly, your typical national parliament in Europe will have elected and therefore supports the very head of government who negotiated the agreement. Good luck trying to convince the majority of “your” members of parliament to openly acknowledge that “their” party’s figurehead might have negotiated something sub-optimal. And good luck  getting them to actually vote against it or push for improvements before it comes to a vote.

The European Parliament on the other hand has far less of such party-based loyalties, at least not between them and the other institutions – notwithstanding the facts, that they do approve, or as of recently elect,  the President of the Commission and it is an unwritten rule, that he or she should come from the spectrum of parties that currently holds the majority of seats (e.g. conservative or social democrats). The EP is, as an institution, far more concerned with improving their position within the EU system. They are still disadvantaged in a lot of situations which are commonly named when talking about the EU’s democratic deficit. Their tactic to improve this situation is to use the powers they do have, and try to stretch them to their maximum, or if possible beyond that by being granted informal rights of participation. And they have time and time again proven that they aren’t afraid of rather extreme measures, be it blocking the budget, or rejecting international agreements, such as the first attempt at the SWIFT agreement or more recently ACTA.

Of course it’s not all just “stickin’ it to the man”. My subjective impression is that MEPs themselves identify a lot with the task of battling the democratic deficit for the citizens’ sake. And if there’s an issue that meets massive and widespread protest, they are more likely to listen than many national MEPs, who tend to be more restricted by party lines. That’s why ACTA failed, even though the conservative parties of the member states supported it and the centre-right has a majority in the EP.

Regardless of the exact motivations of the EP, the resulting effect is the same: The European Union has given citizens and their direct representatives a more realistic chance for unprejudiced scrutiny of controversial international agreements, which would most likely have gotten rubber-stamped by parliament in a purely national process. In most cases this is an additional check, since the national ratification has to take place nonetheless.

Next time someone challenges you to “name one thing the EU has ever done for us”, tell that person that without the EU, ACTA would probably be in force right now, despite massive popular opposition.

A Digital Internal Market for Europe – within our reach?

[This post is a rewrite of an old post from about a month back, which entered data oblivion under the “care” of my less than competent old hosting provider. Upside: I can include a comment on the directive draft for royalty collecting societies]

When I still lived close to the border, I liked to get groceries from the Netherlands and Belgium. Some foodstuffs are quite a bit cheaper in NL, especially coffee, so a caffeine fuelled student like myself could save a considerable amount of money. Also, some great food was only available there (Dubbelvla ftw). And Belgian supermarkets tend to have a range of goods in their regular line that are hard to come by on my side of the border without resorting to delicacy-shops.

Also, whenever I’m in the UK, I like to browse CD, DVD and video game shops for some new gems for my collection. Not only do I prefer the original English audio for my movies and games, but especially the latter usually have a considerably better price.

I then take all these goods home with me, without anyone at the border or customs bothering me about it.

This is a typical example of a European citizen and consumer profiting from the European four freedoms. And many people, in regions close to the border or anywhere else in case of mail order goods, do this every day. But you might have noticed, that these freedoms seem to end when talking about digital goods. As a continental European you cannot, for example, buy an MP3 album from amazon.co.uk, even though it might be cheaper than from your local amazon branch or possibly hasn’t been released in your country yet.

This is what non-British customers see, when trying to buy digital goods from amazon.co.uk

This is done via a technique called Geo-IP, which more or less successfully determines from where in the world you’re going online.

Another aspect that’s even harsher is that you  couldn’t even buy these MP3s if you were in the UK! You need a British billing address and possibly a credit card issued by a British bank (I’m not sure if amazon implements the last part, but many shops do). This is nothing short of discrimination because of country of origin (actually country of residence, but the correlation is probably high). I can, after all, buy the same thing on CD if I just walked into the store. To take the analogy a step further, imagine the clerk refuses to sell you the CD, just because he recognized you as a foreigner.

So, why do and how can they do that? Don’t we have a single market? Sure, these practices can be seen all over the world, but can’t anything be done in the framework of the EU? The following are some different perspectives on this, though I will focus on the more common Geo-IP problem (getting a foreign download product while you are in your home country). Also, I will not go into detail on the actual artists. But I assume that an artists wants as much of a paying audience with as little bureaucratic effort as possible, so releasing once and selling to the whole of Europe should in principle be an attractive idea.

From an informed  consumer‘s viewpoint it is anachronistic to assume that popular culture is regional. Many people know when something they like has come out anywhere in the world and they want it. They are willing to pay for it, but sometimes they just can’t buy it. A prominent recent example was people asking to pay for streaming video content, that is currently only available with a physical cable TV subscription in the United States. They also know how much their neighbours in the global village are paying and are not willing to pay more than the best global market price. The technical and legal reasons why they can’t aren’t intuitively understandable and they also plainly don’t care. They want to watch a movie, they are willing to pay for it, and they know what’s the best price and where. If they can’t do that, they tend to feel ripped off or, in the case of complete unavailability, resort to piracy.

The publishers / labels / rights-holders like to make money, obviously. One aspect of how to optimize your income is clever pricing. Ideally, you take the maximum amount of money a customer is willing to pay from him/her. This would result in perfect price discrimination. This isn’t practical in mass retailing. But pricing differently for each country is a major step to get closer to this ideal: There are slightly different price levels in each country for different categories of goods. People who live in a given region are used to these prices and are therefore on average willing to pay more or less for a certain good. Not every consumer is informed in the way described above, so this still works reasonably well. Therefore, the publishers assign different prices to different countries and increase their profits. With immaterial goods such as digital downloads, this is even easier. They are distributed relatively centralized from a countable number of online stores, so managing prices becomes an easy task. There are surely more reasons for pricing the same immaterial good differently in every country, but I believe this is the heart of the matter.

From the perspective of the EU (or the European Commission to be precise, as they would be the ones to start legal proceedings against a breach of the Treaties or European legislation) the free movement of goods first of all means, that no member state of the Union may prevent you from getting the stuff you bought in another member state over the border. It does not force a publisher to sell their digital good directly to any place in the Union. Nationally organized rights-holder organizations and different sets of copyright law even effectively prohibit them from doing so. The Commission isn’t necessarily happy about the current situation.

In the early days of the iTunes store, there were legal proceedings under anti-trust law against Apple, who had different prices even between Eurozone countries. Apple blamed the multitude of national copyright laws and the consequent national licensing. And they were probably even genuinely angered by becoming targets for EU anti-trust negotiations because of this: Later, they even actively lobbied for provisions for single European licenses.

Also, there have been attempts at making the single market a reality for media. The Audiovisual Media Services Directive of 2010 however, mainly offers an explicit analogy to what the regular internal market means: States may not hinder the broadcasting or reception of media to or from another member state. Conflicting copyright rules are explicitly excempt.

There has been non-binding action, such as the Green Paper towards a digital single market. It recognizes the problems of the current national copyright landscape and aims to achieve “rights clearance”

Just recently, a draft directive was proposed, that seemingly build on this. It focuses on breaking the national royalty collecting societies’ monopoly over their territories. This is a good thing, for artists and consumers alike, because competition in this field will probably allow better payment for the former and possibly generate better tariffs for the latter. Collecting societies probably won’t be able to afford an overhead like the German GEMA has today. However, besides being only concerned with music (not software or video), the current draft only facilitates the process of multi-territorial licensing. It does not require it!

“A collecting society may decide not to grant multi-territorial licenses for online rights in musical works, but it could continue to grant national licences […].” (Page 10 of the Directive proposal COM(2012) 372/2)

The new structure tries to give incentives to actually license EU-wide has other provisions like disallows cherry picking by taking foreign licenses but not internationalising one’s own – so no reaping the benefits unless a collecting society joins in completely.

However, I doubt the full effectiveness of this. After all, the current copyright situation seemingly benefits publishers, as explained above. And in an open “collecting society market” they can decide whether or not they want to go one that acts nationally or multi-territorially. If there remains one purely national collecting society in each country, publishers might do the cherry picking, by keeping price discrimination up and licensing to individual national societies or to a multi-territorial society in cases where price discrimination would reap less benefits than the lower bureaucratic overhead. A pure single digital market might be profitable as well, especially if this nation-specific overhead is completely eliminated, but I am not convinced that every rights-holder is prepared to take this leap of faith.

A full digital internal market would mean an obligation to sell something that’s publicly available on the internet in one country within the whole Union. The buyer would have to bear the transport costs, as he does for mail order from other member states, but fortunately, they are zero in this case. Also, the fact that there’s zero additional effort on either side (in fact, less on the store’s side if it doesn’t check the buyer’s origin any more) makes this more reasonable than forcing the few mail order companies that don’t ship outside their member state to do something alike.

A first step toward this might be to forbid the requirement of a local billing address. I imagine this might be achievable via anti-discrimination law, which should outweigh copyright concerns. This is of course a more of a normative than an actual legal argument (I’m not a lawyer) and I have no clue whether there have been any attempts to legally pursue the right to buy digital goods from (physically) within a foreign country this way. (I’d be very interested to read about it though, if anybody knows something…).

In the meantime, let’s watch the draft directive unfold, and let’s hope I’m wrong about my hunch that it will be abused by rights-holders in a way that neither consumers nor the actual artists profit from this.


Copyright hinders a digital internal market for the EU. The Commission’s working on it (which is good), but focuses on collecting societies. Loopholes seem to exist, especially on the level of rights-holders, and will probably be used to keep up regional price discrimination.