Kaart van de Balkan

Is the Bulgarian Article 13 Compromise a French affair?

The Bulgarian EU Presidency is under immense pressure to move the copyright reform forward. Yet it seems like the country is too timid to defend its own interests. A new campaign kicked off in Sofia to try and change that.

Somewhere far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the EU lies a small unregarded country—Bulgaria. In 2018 this Member State will not only be known for resonant voices and rampant corruption, but also for its prominent role in the EU copyright reform. While it holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU it is up to the Bulgarian government to propose new compromises and bring the discussion forward in order to reach a common position between Member States.

But the Council is not Bulgaria’s only copyright stronghold at the moment. The reform falls in the competences of the country’s Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, and 10% of the votes in the lead European Parliament committee (Legal Affairs) are to be cast by MEPs from parties currently making up its governing coalition.

The Bulgarian Compromise, a French Affair?

At the end of 2017 the Council negotiations hit somewhat of a stalemate and the Estonian Presidency was forced to give up, unnerved after trying for months to square the circle between the content industry’s bold demands and fundamental rights for users and the public.

Apparently the Bulgarian Presidency decided to kick 2018 off with a fresh approach. They circulated questions on the most controversial articles of the reform among Member States and then seemed to be proposing a new compromise.

Weirdly enough, this proposal seems to be very close to the positions of France, Spain, and Portugal than a honest attempt at balancing between the different challenges Europe faces.

What is even more astonishing is that Bulgaria proposes a limitation of the non-liability regime provided under the E-Commerce Directive. This looks like a very surgical attack on this country’s own interests. While a limitation of the liability protection would presumably favour the big rights holders in the music and film sectors in the EU—whose umbrella organisations are at the forefront of this lobbying—these industries are negligible in Bulgaria. This comes at the same time that Sofia and its other cities are now host to a multitude of IT companies paying above average salaries in the poorest EU Member State, and a burgeoning start-up scene is at the heart of the creation of attractive jobs. Article 13 would essentially stifle start-ups. Why a poor country would propose something that hurts its own industry to help France’s content business is mystifying.

A new campaign

There is something rotten in Bulgaria and it seems that, as all too often, the connection between Brussels and the national media is not working. While the Presidency is proposing principles that will pretermine the development of the European and Bulgarian industries for at least a decade—and will risk submitting its citizens to surveillance regimes unimaginable a decade ago—the national debate is not taking place at all.

This is why a new Bulgarian campaign, supported by digital rights groups, universities, libraries, Bulgarian businesses and Communia itself kicked off last week in Sofia. An open letter was sent to the Ministry Culture and the Bulgarian Presidency laying out the issues of Bulgarian stakeholders. The Bulgarian Presidency and government should stand up for start-ups, users, and a fair balancing of fundamental rights.

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