Hollywood in Brussels
20 June 2018. The atmosphere was electric as we gathered around the doors, waiting patiently for them to open. And when they did, there was a mad rush to get a seat and a good view to the front. 1.5 hours later, there was a round of applause and excited chatter as people left the room.
Indeed, the EP JURI Committee vote on the draft report on copyright in the digital single market had all the hallmarks of a proper rock concert. The room was packed with lobbyists following the proceedings, and I’m sure I was not the only one muttering along to the Chair as he read out the amendments and compromises, trying to make sense of the voting list, as if it was my favourite song.
An unforgettable morning! The controversial Articles 11 and 13 were adopted with slim majorities, as was the report as a whole. We have not yet reached peak copyright though, as the report will be opened for debate in July. At the time of writing, the hashtags on the opposing sides of the debate — #vote4jurireport and #SaveYourInternet – are not trending on Twitter. Yet. Last month’s furore over being ‘GDPR ready’ ahead of the colossal data protection’s legislation application suddenly seems so very far away.
However for me, the highlight of any visit to the Parliament is the opportunity to spot MEPs in their natural habitat. Having spent almost immeasurable amounts of time watching and listening to them while writing our OPP meeting summaries, seeing the likes of Axel Voss (EPP) and Julia Reda (Greens/EFA) in the flesh is exciting in its own surreal way. It reaffirms that these are real people, as opposed to just blurry pixels on my computer screen. Over the past year I’ve probably spent more time streaming the recordings of Committee meetings than I have Netflix.
A colleague once described going to the Parliament as going to Hollywood. Meeting Paul Brannen (S&D) and listening to him talk about laminated timber is perhaps not as glamorous as meeting George Clooney, but there is an element of truth to it. These people are celebrities, in their own way, as they play a crucial role in shaping the way we will live our lives for the coming years. So I must admit, when Pilar del Castillo Vera (EPP) walked past me in the corridor (I was extremely lost), I had to resist the temptation to run to her and congratulate her on completing the negotiations on the European Electronic Communications Code. She probably just wanted to have lunch, not be pestered for an autograph.
There may be no red carpet and the Parliament meeting rooms certainly pale in comparison to grandeur of the main hall of the Ancienne Belgique. Yet on days like 20 June, the Parliament proves that it is just as unmissable as the latest Netflix Original offering.
Backbone of the economy
I am not ashamed to admit that I have a small online shopping addiction. My week feels incomplete without a trip to my local post office, where the lovely elderly couple who run it say nothing but have that slight judgemental twinkle in their eye as they hand over yet another ill-advised online purchase. It’s hereditary, I think. A constant source of marital strife between my parents is the steady stream of parcels that arrive at their front door for my father, filled with a variety of cables or new computer parts. If I had to hazard a guess, I reckon he’s actually attempting to build the EU’s first supercomputer.
So as a keen consumer and an ardent believer of e-commerce, I went to EMOTA’s lunch-time event at the European Parliament (hosted by Dita Charanzova (ALDE)) with enthusiasm to find out more about the Commission’s new proposal on increasing transparency in relations between online platforms and the businesses that use them. And I was pleasantly surprised too, not only to be served wine with the lunch but to also to hear almost unanimous support for the proposal both from the big platforms and the European SMEs that depend on them. That doesn’t happen often!
Two things stood out from the discussion that followed: the definition of ‘consumer’ and the importance of digital skills. Stakeholders and politicians alike love to wax poetic about the importance of empowering European consumers and giving them more choices. But we need to take a moment to consider what actually constitutes a ‘consumer’ in the EU. Businesses are consumers too, in their relationships with platforms. And the digital single market runs a real risk of becoming the digital fragmented market if the definition of consumer varies from one piece of legislation to another.
It is also important to consider digital skills beyond only improving education and boosting the IT skills of young people. Older people, especially in rural areas need to be given the know-how and confidence to participate in the digital economy. I have no doubts that my aunt’s knitted jumpers, scarves and socks would fly off the virtual shelves of any e-commerce platform, but living in rural eastern Europe, she still uses the so-called Nokia ‘brick phone’ and her digital skills don’t go beyond checking emails and occasionally googling the news. People like my aunt have huge potential and the EU would do well to help them. SMEs are, after all, the backbone of the European economy.