This is an essay written by yours truly in Romanian about Hungary, to commemorate the debates in the European Parliament and international media of last week. It was actually originally written by me, but corrected by a native speaker who considered ”80% of the [original] text intelligible”. For Hungarian readers of this text, please see an interview with index.hu I made last year which is along these same lines. For non-Romanian and non-Hungarian speakers, essentially my concern is that the European Commission (in particular) avoids difficult issues about human rights for European citizens and focuses on administrative points because they are afraid of stepping on the toes of sovereignty of, in particular, founding member states (I’m thinking mostly about the non-critique of laws like LOPPSI, HADOPI, Sinde, etc).
Ungaria este o țară din Europa Centrală. Este membră a Uniunii Europene de peste 8 ani. În urmă cu mai puțin de un an, Parlamentul Ungariei a votat o nouă lege pentru mass-media care a redus libertățile jurnaliștilor. Anul trecut, Parlamentul European și-a exprimat nemulțumirea și îngrijorarea privind această nouă lege. Nici jurnaliștilor nu le place noua lege pentru că ea prezintă riscul cenzurii.
Îngrijorarea continuă și astăzi. Unora dintre parlamentarii europeni nu le place noua Constituție a Ungariei pentru că e foarte naționalistă. Guvernul Ungariei, care e susținut în Parlament de 67% dintre deputați (o ”majoritate absolută”), și-a propus întinerirea forțată a corpului de judecători. Lipsa de independență a Agenției Naționale pentru protecția datelor cu caracter personal a fost criticată.
La nivelul Comisiei Europene se critică noua lege prin care statul va avea mult control asupra Băncii Naționale a Ungariei.
Lipsa de independeță a agenției naționale nu este cea mai mare problemă, ci riscul cenzurii și păstrarea forțată a datelor. Cabluri de internet traversează Ungaria, mulți alți cetățeni europeni fiind dependenți de acestea. Cenzura din Ungaria poate afecta oameni din afara jurisdicției maghiare.
Sancțiunile propuse împotriva Ungariei sunt sancțiune financiare, iar critica privește doar aspectele administrative (ca și lipsa independenței Agenției).
Dacă nu s-ar limita la atât, Uniunea Europeană ar trebui să critice și alte legi din alte state membre care limitează libertatea informației și cea a comunicării, dar acest lucru ar încălca principiul suveranității naționale.
În Europa se construiește un ”internet of holes”, un ”internet al golurilor”.
lege referitoare la = lag som berör/rör
nici jurnaliștilor nu le place = journalister gillar inte heller (dubbel-negation och ett dativ(!))
Short version: There are transtition protocols that need to be signed before we can be MEPs. France and the UK may have almost signed by now. Belgium and Greece have still not signed. It is uncertain whether there may be additional delays until the French national elections in april 2012.
”How does one become a parliamentarian when one is so young?” is a question I receive regularly. ”How does the European Parliament keep you from assuming your role as a publically elected official for so long?” is another.
They’re not keeping only me from assuming my role. There are a total of 18 Lisbon-seats, that is, seats added to the total size of the parliament (currently 736) by the Lisbon treaty, the new status of the Union (more or less), which entered into effect December 1 2009. In almost two years, many changes mandated by the treaty have not been implemented yet, among those the inauguration of the new MEPs. We come from a total of 12 European countries and represent political views from across the political spectrum in our various member states.
In spring 2010 I was contacted by L-MEP Josef Weidenholzer, an Austrian who is in the same precarious situation as myself. He suggested, and I agreed, that it was important that we collaborate to improve our situation and speed up the process of our ascension. Together with Maltese L-MEP Joseph Cuschieri (his webpage is in Maltese! one of the weirdest-looking but coolest languages of the union) we followed the first treatment of the implementation of Lisbon in the European Parliament in the Parliament constitutional committee.
It turned out that a domestic dispute in France, receiver of two additional seats according to the Lisbon treaty, regarding how they would name their extra MEPs (me, Josef and Joseph always ”knew” that when inauguration time came up, we would be representatives – France did not have specified people to fill the seats) created dissent and controversy in, of course, France, but also in the EP and the Council of Ministers – how to write the transition protocols (documents describing how the change from one treaty to the next would take place) in such a way that the French domestic dispute wouldn’t have to be solved at a European level? It took the parliament 6 months to figure this out, upon which a document called protocol 36, specifying the transition rules, started being circulated for signing and ratification by member state parliaments in summer of 2010.
Protocol 36 was signed and ratified by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, and because it constituted a change to the Lisbon Treaty (they had altered the wording of subparagraph c) in article 23, if I’m not mistakenly reminded) it needed re-approval by member state parliaments.
This re-ratification was meant to be finished by December 1 2010. For us, it meant gathering forces and getting in touch with member state parliaments to find out when the member state parliaments were planning to treat the issue. Me and L-MEP Jens Nilsson ascertained that Sweden would ratify in October, Josef Weidenholzer and Joseph Cuschieri quickly got notifications of when ratification was to occur in Austria and Malta respectively.
Joseph Cuschieri collaborated intensively with the European Parliament local office in Malta and compiled an estimated time-frame for ratification in all member states – at this point we had some form of reference document to be used for when ”lobbying” efforts were required in which member state to speed up the process as much as possible.
At some point Josef Weidenholzer too the initiative of setting up an e-mailing list!
L-MEP Kārlis Šadurskis from
Lithuanian Latvian started writing to the Lithuanian Latvian embassies of all member states to ask when or how things were moving along. (revised Jun 15 2011)
France was at this time a point of constant concern – the news from France were uncertain. What needed to happen in France for protocol 36 to be approved? There were rumours of conflicts between the French socialists and the French conservatives. Inside the European Parliament it appeared that the French socialists, currently the largest national faction inside the European socialist group S&D, were unwilling to have the European Parliament take a strong role for the installation of the new MEPs – it also seemed the Conservatives of the European Parliament (EPP) were unwilling to cross the socialists in this matter. Kārlis Šadurskis figured out that there was a constitutional change under-going and that it would be completed earliest by May 12 2011. After the constitutional change was arranged, the protocols could be treated and signed by the French president and national assembly.
At this time, when there was a more definite time-frame for France (who were always the most uncertain element in this – and still are!) the focus could be shifted again to other member states that didn’t yet sign: in April there was a number of them (Poland, Romania, Greece, UK, France, Belgium, and a few other ones).
L-MEP Anthea McIntyre provided continuous reports from the ratification processes in the UK. The road of protocol 36 in the various member states looks different depending on the parliamentary system in use: in the UK it passes between the Government, House of Commons and House of Lords and possibly someone else, where each step of the way is another cliff-hanger. The last news I’ve had from the UK are no news, which is good news – according to Anthea McIntyre the House of Lords could have objected to the ratification about 1,5 weeks ago but there have been no news of them using this privilege.
When Poland and Romania ratified about 3 weeks ago (mid-May 2011) we started talking again about trying to meet up with President Buzek from the European Parliament (whose role can be described a bit as ”spokesperson” in the Parliament – chairing plenary and representing the Parliament institutionally, not politically).
L-MEP Tomasz Makowski assigned himself the Task, by virtue of also being from Poland. President Buzek was contacted on behalf of the Polish L-MEP Arkadiusz Bratkowski. (revised Oct 23 2011).
So where does that leave us?Currently, the UK process is undergoing but probably not entirely finished (to my knowledge). In France, the office of the president must still be signing the Lisbon Protocol 36 and this has yet to happen. The news from Greece are uncertain. In Belgium, all six national parliaments must sign (Brussels parliament, Flemmish parliament, Wallonian parliament, French-speaking Community parliament (apparently Wallonia minus the German-speakers plus the French speakers of Brussels), German-speaking Community (Wallonia minus the French-speakers), federal parlament), and currently we’ve found out only of the German-Speaking Community signing the protocols about 3 weeks ago, the Flemmish parliament starting preparations to sign the protocols about 2 weeks ago and from the remaining parliaments there are no words. Given the precarious political situation of Belgium at the moment, it’s slightly uncertain what will happen when the protocols pass all parliaments – will it still need to be dealt with at the executive (federal government) level and if so how?
One last word of caution: undoubtedly it is very positive that only four member states have still to sign, two of which (UK and France) seem to only have to undertake a pure formality, but I heard in the grapevine that France may possibly want to wait with inaugurating the Lisbon-MEPs until the time that they can fill their additional two seats in the national elections next year, 2012, in April. Whether it’s within the scope of what France can or cannot do to accomplish this I don’t know. Technically, the European Parliament could have made the bureaucratic decision to include the L-MEPs as observers (a special transition-status for MEPs) last year in September (2010) but decided against after opposition from what I understood to be French politicians.
”If the public wants public culture, the public must be prepared to invest in public culture,” said James Love,as we were walking down a small street in central Barcelona after having evening tapas. It was October 2009 and we had just had a brief conversation about flatrates and blank media taxes.
Our conversation was held at a time when I was just trying to evaluate the voluntary collective licenses proposed by EFF, and supported by among others the Canadian Association of Songwriters and James Love’s association Knowledge Ecology International. It goes as follows: an internet subscriber chooses of his or her own free will to pay a fee to rights holder associations so as to be allowed to download, upload, remix and mix all the music they find like to online without being subjected to the threat of a lawsuit.
Jamie Love was the first person who in very direct terms confronted me with shared culture and information being, yes, socially important and valuable, but also having an economic value. In the sense that culture needs an economic influx.
Incidentally, my viewpoint at the time was that collective licenses in general were an evil to be avoided, much in line with the then and current policies of Piratpartiet.
”Who should be paid what, why and how?” being the catchy, and quite sensible, lead motif of Piratpartiet had led me to believe that there was reason whatsoever to distribute any money in any way which wasn’t entirely fair, and that all such efforts should therefore be abandoned. As I grow older (I love saying that, I’m 23 years old so technically I’m only barely half-way middle-age) I realize that the concept of ”fairness” is quite subjective – just because an action risks being unfair, does not mean that the lack of that action automatically becomes more so – and the question (or four questions) is wrongly stated: obviously the relevant questions for a society to ask itself are ”What do we want from whom, why and how?” Public sponsorship of culture needs to put the benefits to society first, not the receiver of the sponsorship.
The EFF proposal is meant to be a ”peaceful” solution to the conflicts around copyrighted music online. Philippe Aigrain from French NGO LQDN objects, rightfully and I agree with him, that a voluntary flatrate can never amend this situation. For how do you legally then handle all the people who didn’t subscribe? Presumably by precisely that type of legislation we want to avoid.
Philippe Aigrain advocates a different form of collective license, a politically governed flatrate on broadband connections, that is mandatory for all citizens inside the jurisidiction of those politicians and that would end to all legal complications around the up- and downloading as well as the remixing and mixing. Since all people inside the territory of this law, by virtue of being inside the jurisidiction, would pay the flatrate, there wouldn’t be a need for a law of enforcement at all – the idea of the flatrate is to remove the need for enforcement. The idea of Aigrain is, much like what Love said to me, that the public has an interest and a responsibility to invest in its own cultural heritage and future.
In the Green Group in the European Parliament, Piratpartiet has long stood up against collective licenses as a solution to any kind of copyright plight. Austrian parliamentarian Eva Lichtenberger though, once told me she believes it is a politically feasible solution.
If the Piratpartiet modus operandi is that ”the revolution is just around the corner so if we only wait for another few years surely the entire system will collapse”, I’m guessing Eva Lichtenberger means that it might be possible to act sooner. And since we know for a fact that we have a problem with a dwindling public domain and that methods for distributing knowledge and culture (like the bittorrent protocol) are being pushed back because of copyright (actually not only copyright, but for a part) issues(in favour of filehosting pages nonetheless – they are incredibly inconvenient and this trend should be stopped now or preferably yesterday! away with ye, http!) and that these are problems now, waiting for the revolution seems to me a very bad option.
Confirming the suspicions of Eva Lichtenberger, at least partly, is the Brazilian proposal for a flatrate on internet connections advocated by among others Volker Grassmuck. The Brazilian Ministry of Culture, and by extension former president Lula, supported the general idea of a low-cost flatrate on internet connections in Brazil, the revenues from which would go to remuneration of artistic efforts. Other people that supported the Brazilian proposal included Brazilian artists, including free culture artists. At the mature age of 23, I’ve realized that the flatrates appear to have some support with artists in, say, Canada and Brazil, whereas waiting for the revolution appears to be torturing, say, librarians. A public, collective license needs to solve two things: the situation for librarians and archivers with respect to contemporary and historical information; the enablement of continued advances in information spreading technologies. We have an interest and a responsibility to invest in our freedom and present, and with investment I mean here some form of monetary transaction – I did not make the economic system, I do not run it, but I acknowledge its general existence.
As it were, the new Brazilian president Dilma Roussef appointed a Minister of Culture not as keen on flatrates, meaning not that the new minister is waiting for the revolution, but that the new minister is more eager to follow the stricter enforcement model. Why? Well, presumably because the (political) flatrate solution as proposed in Brazil would have put a potentially huge amount of power of financiation of culture in the hands of the public, rather than in the hands of private interests.
For what we want, as a public, is most likely something along the lines of public culture. We want it from the artists and seeing as many (mind you not all) cultural activities require some form of money spending, we presumably want there to be money to be spend on such activities. And we want it because we value culture, we value the public domain, we value knowledge, information, music, films and collaboration, interaction, sociability, etc.
I suggested to Aigrain and Grassmuck at the conference that the collective license, or flatrate, on internet connections to end the onslaught of repressive legislation be modelled on the Swedish rules for library remuneration. This public fund is governed by the state (law) and replenished with public money through indirect taxes (money does not go from the reader to the fund, but from the tax payer to the state and then to the fund) when books (by Swedish authors) are loaned from the library. Money goes out from the fund in the form of direct remuneration to authors if their books have been read by a large audience (remuneration level based on number of loans) and stipends. The clever part about the fund, though, is that it restricts the amount of payout to an individual author after the total amount of pay that author receives in a year is approaching something that can be considered ”an average annual income”. Oh me.
The what in the case of the library fund was quite clear: we wanted books for our libraries. Why? So that people could read and learn. The who was not unclear: authors. The how was also quite defined: through something similar to a wage that would allow those authors to work full-time with their endeavours.
Returning to the political viability of collective licenses as assessed by Eva Lichtenberger – I’m not sure that the very sensible approach to public remunerations of artistic efforts a la Swedish library remuneration is part of what is ”politically feasible” but the idea of keeping the political solution political (as in, keeping such a flatrate politcally governed) certainly is. Both the Philippe Aigrain and Volker Grassmuck proposals included preliminary caps on remuneration levels to ensure maximum spread and benefit of the public funding. Public sponsorship of culture, needless to say, must put the benefits to the public first rather than the receiver of the sponsorship.
But if it were politically feasible, what would be the time scope for such a political action?
In Europe it is, as always, hinging on the European Commission and ultimately on the European Council. Activist groups and political groups (like, say, the Greens) in Europe are relatively fractured when it comes to the issue of flatrates – country of origin seems to play a large part in the activist or politician relation to flatrates and blank media taxes. One of my primary concerns with collective licenses in Europe is the installment of extended collective licenses such that libraries and archives can digitize and make publically available online their collections without risking lawsuits. One way of financing such a license could be a flatrate. Another, also primary, concern, is to get any kind of copyright issue out of the political debate – there are many aspects of information management that are very fundamentally wrong, most of them completely unrelated to copyright, but having that kind of copyright menace hanging over our heads is an obstacle to finding solutions for a general information accessibility.
I wrote about non-rights based distribution models before: 2010-11-12
And I’ve written about flatrates before as well: 2011-03-11
One might say it’s an ongoing endeavour to define potential public problems and adjacent potential public solutions.