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‘It’s blackmail’: French and German publishers unite to fight #Google refusal to pay them copyright fees

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France’s and Germany’s major publishers are closing ranks in an attempt to fight back against Google’s refusal to pay them when their content appears in its search index, writes Jessica Davies.

For months, European publishers have labored to re-establish a more even economical balance between the negotiating power of large tech companies like Google and publishers via a European Union Online Copyright Directive.

The goal of the law, due to take effect in France 24 October, is to give publishers the right to request platforms like Google and Facebook pay them for when they display their content online. But on Sept. 25, Google stirred up a hornet’s nest when it revealed that it had no such intention.

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“We don’t accept payment from anyone to be included in search results,” wrote Richard Gingras, vp of news for Google in a blog post. “We sell ads, not search results, and every ad on Google is clearly marked. That’s also why we don’t pay publishers when people click on their links in a search result.”

French and German publishers don’t plan to stand down quietly without a fight. They’re betting on strength in numbers and as such are putting on a united front. The editors of France’s Alliance of the Press of General Information, which represents dozens of publishers, and the European Newspapers Publishers Association both issued statements condemning Google’s move as an abuse of power. Germany’s equivalent body — the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers — swiftly followed suit with its own statement of intent to stand with French publishers to challenge the ruling, and challenge Google’s position on antitrust grounds, with the European Commission.

“Google is not above the law,” said the ENPA statement. “European publishers intend to remain united in the face of intimidation and demand that EU legislation be respected. Otherwise, a free, independent and quality press will not be able to find its viability in the European Union.”

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In France, Google and Facebook account for between 85% and 90% of the display market, making digital ad monetization particularly tough, according to Bertrand Gié, director of news divisions across print and digital at Le Figaro Groupe and president of France’s digital publisher association Le Geste.

“It’s like blackmail,” said Gié. “You either have to agree to give them the digital rights for your content for free; otherwise, you will disappear from the search.”

Publishers won’t, however, be dropped entirely from search results. Google has said that it will feature headlines and links to articles in the index, but not the text snippet usually seen below it that gives a contextual summary of the story nor the accompanying image.

In doing so, Google has said it is within the copyright law without the need to pay a license fee to publishers. Should publishers decide they want the additional image and context snippet, they can inform Google and it will continue to appear for those sites. But given Google has long informed publishers that their ranking will improve with accompanying image, and contextual news snippet below the headline, that has not reassured French publishers.

Some publishing execs have also said they fear it will only mean the ranking of dodgy sites purposefully spreading misinformation and hate speech, will improve. However, Google has maintained it won’t affect rankings. Gié said that publishers across different European nations would continue to meet and discuss how to push forward. One of the plans may involve revisiting the law to see if there are loopholes that allow Google to take its current stance, which can be closed in a future iteration, he added. Whether or not the publishers will succeed is another matter.

Publishers have the backing of the French government on this, but the German Federal Cartel office has previously ruled that Google had not abused its position in anti-competition cases put against it by publishers. The office stated that if the concept of “universal connectivity” is hampered by search engines like Google having to enter business negotiations with website owners, then users would suffer.

Meanwhile, smaller publishers don’t have an issue with Google’s stance either, and acknowledge Google’s role in driving their page visits. “This is a test for French publishers since France is the first country to implement the directive,” said Fabrice Fries, director general of international news agency Agence France Presse, in an emailed statement to Digiday. “It will pave the way for further negotiations at European level. It is clear that if divisions prevail, the directive is dead.”

Meanwhile the European Publishers Council will also appeal to the European Commission about the ruling, citing that it is an anti-competitive play by Google, according to Angela Mills-Wade, executive director of the EPC. “Given the strong support for publishers from the French government, who said this was unacceptable and implied they would be talking to other governments, I think we can be reassured that this behavior won’t go unchallenged,” said Mills-Wade.

She added that the stance of Google only proves why the directive — designed to level the playing field between monopolies and rights holders with incentives to license — was a necessary move. “This should be a no-brainer,” said Fries. “I remain of the view that sharing a bit of the value the publishers create with their content would be in Google’s long-term interest: The platforms need quality journalism, and quality journalism has a cost.”

Belgium

Commission approves €45 million Belgian scheme to support companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €45 million Belgian scheme to support companies active in the Brussels-Capital region affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Belgian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The public support was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, which goes under the name 'la prime Relance', the aid will take the form of direct grants. Eligible beneficiaries are companies of all sizes active in the following sectors: nightclubs, restaurants and cafés (‘ReCa') and some of their suppliers, events, culture, tourism, sport and passenger transport. In order to be eligible, companies must have been registered in the Central Bank for Enterprises (‘la Banque-Carrefour des Enterprises' ) by 31 December 2020. The Commission found that the Belgian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the support (i) will not exceed €1.8 million per company; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021.

The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64775 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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European Commission

Macro-financial assistance: EU disburses €125 million to Bosnia and Herzegovina and €50 million to the Republic of Moldova

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The European Commission, on behalf of the EU, has carried out another round of disbursements under the €3 billion macro-financial assistance package for ten enlargement and neighbourhood partners. The programme is a concrete demonstration of the EU's solidarity with its partners to help respond to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission has disbursed €125 million to Bosnia and Herzegovina and €50 million to the Republic of Moldova. This support is provided through loans at very favourable rates. With these disbursements, the EU has successfully completed five out of the 10 MFA programmes in the €3 billion COVID-19 MFA package, and disbursed the first tranches to all partners. The Commission continues to work closely with the rest of its MFA partners on the timely implementation of the agreed policy programmes. 

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European Commission

NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Finland's €2.1 billion recovery and resilience plan

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The European Commission has adopted a positive assessment of Finland's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €2.1 billion in grants to Finland under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The financing provided by the RRF will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Finland's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a significant role in enabling Finland to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF is the key instrument at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide up to €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Finnish plan forms part of an unprecedented coordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

The Commission assessed Finland's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms contained in Finland's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.

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Securing Finland's green and digital transitions  

The Commission's assessment finds that Finland's plan devotes 50% of the plan's total allocation on measures that support climate objectives. Finland has announced an ambitious target for achieving carbon neutrality by 2035. The reforms and investments included in the plan will make an important contribution to Finland achieving this objective. The plan addresses each of the highest emitting sectors in turn, namely energy, housing, industry and transport. It includes reforms to phase out the use of coal in energy production, changes to taxation to favour cleaner technologies, and a reform of the Waste Act with increased targets for recycling and reuse. On the investment side, the plan will finance clean energy technologies and related infrastructure, industry decarbonisation, the replacement of oil boilers with low- or zero-carbon heating systems and private and public charging points for electric cars.

The Commission's assessment finds that Finland's plan devotes 27% of its total allocation on measures that support the digital transition. The plan includes measures to improve high-speed internet connectivity, particularly in rural areas, support the digitalisation of businesses and the public sector, enhance digital skills of the workforce and support the development of key technologies such as artificial intelligence, 6G and microelectronics.

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Reinforcing Finland's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Finland's plan includes an extensive set of mutually reinforcing reforms and investments that contribute to effectively addressing the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Finland in recent years.

It contains a broad set of reform measures to raise the employment rate and strengthen the functioning of the labour market, ranging from the transformation of Public Employment Services to improving and facilitating access to social and healthcare services. The plan includes specific measures to provide integration support for young people and people with partial work-capacity. The plan also includes measures to strengthen the effective supervision and enforcement of Finland's anti-money laundering framework.

The plan represents a comprehensive and balanced response to the economic and social situation of Finland, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.

Supporting flagship investment and reform projects

Finland's plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects, which address issues that are common to all Member States in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the green and digital transition. For instance, Finland has proposed to provide €161 million to investments in new energy technologies and €60m toward the decarbonisation of industrial processes to support the green transition. To support the digital transition, the plan will invest €50m in the rollout of rapid broadband services and €93m to support the development of digital skills as part of continuous learning and labour market reforms.

The Commission's assessment finds that none of the measures included in the plan significantly harms the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The Commission considers that the controls systems put in place by Finland are adequate to protect the financial interests of the Union. The plan provides sufficient details on how national authorities will prevent, detect and correct instances of conflict of interest, corruption and fraud relating to the use of funds.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “I am delighted to present the European Commission's endorsement of Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan. I am proud that NextGenerationEU will make a significant contribution to support Finland's goal to become carbon neutral by 2035. The plan will also help bolster Finland's reputation for excellence in innovation with support for the development of new technologies in areas such as artificial intelligence, 6G and microelectronics. We will stand with Finland throughout the plan's implementation to ensure that the reforms and investments it contains are fully delivered.”

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The Commission has today given its green light for Finland's recovery and resilience plan, which will set the country on a greener and more digital path as it recovers from the crisis. This plan will help Finland to meet its ambitious carbon-neutrality target by 2035, with reforms and investments that will reduce carbon emissions from energy production, housing, industry and transport. We welcome its focus on high-speed connectivity, particularly for sparsely populated areas to help maintain their economic activity, and on digitalising smaller businesses and the public sector. With reforms to boost employment and strengthen the labour market, Finland's plan will promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth once it is put into effect.”

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan is strongly focused on the green transition. No less than 50% of its total allocation is set to support climate objectives, helping to speed the country towards its ambitious target of carbon neutrality by 2035. The plan also contains an array of measures to boost Finland's already strong digital competitiveness. I particularly welcome the Finnish plan's strong social elements, with measures to raise the employment rate, tackle youth unemployment and facilitate access to social and healthcare services.”

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a decision to provide €2.1bn in grants to Finland under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €271m to Finland in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total allocated amount for Finland.

The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the recovery and resilience plan, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

More information

Questions and Answers: European Commission endorses Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan

Factsheet on Finland's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Finland

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Finland

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and Answers

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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