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Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner

Five decades in the news - Europe and the ENPA

Speech at the ENPA 50th anniversary Congress

Brussels, 8 November 2011

Dear friends,

The European Newspaper Publishers Association (ENPA) has turned fifty. A fiftieth anniversary is always a milestone and should be celebrated with pomp and ceremony. You, the ENPA, were created in 1961 when the European Community only had six members. You have witnessed, reported and commented on the construction, enlargement, turning points, disasters and historical developments of the European Union. You too have been through considerable changes, yet have always maintained your main raison d'être: to inform and to comment, to promote debate and citizenship. That is quite an achievement!

Congratulations and thank you!

Dear friends,

It is both a pleasure and an honour for me to be here today with you and to open today's Congress.

Who would have thought, 50 years ago, that the Treaty of Lisbon would bring us the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the codification of the values upon which Europe was built? You have supported these values through decades, worrying sometimes that they could not survive.

You have acted when you sensed that "freedom of expression" and the "freedom of the press" – two basic pillars of our European society – might be in danger.

I remember well the intense discussion I had with some of you in 2007. On the initiative of journalists and editors-in-chief, the idea of the European Charter on Freedom of Press was launched and put into practice. Your specific Charter was born even before the general Charter of all rights became a legal reality. This shows that your engagement goes well beyond the day-to-day business of publishing a newspaper.

Thank you for this contribution to a Europe of values.

As a former journalist and as a politician I know and appreciate the added value newspapers bring to the democratic debate every day. This essential role of the media in democratic society is now also embedded in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, a Charter which my collaborators and myself are trying to use as a compass for all European Union policies and as a "line to take" for all Member States whenever they implement European law.

Achieving this goal is not easy. We need you, editors, journalists, to give a helping hand. And we know, thanks to 50 years of experience, that we are partners, because we have so much in common.

We are capable of facing important challenges and surviving. This is true for Europe as well as for the newspaper sector. Allow me to say a few words – firstly on the challenges Europe has confronted; then on the challenges you have been faced and, finally, on the future that lies ahead of us all.

First, a few words on the challenges Europe has faced:

  • It was only 65 years ago, two generations ago, that our continent was on fire.

  • Less than 25 years ago, only one generation ago, an iron curtain kept us apart. And freedom of the press and freedom of expression did not exist in half of our continent.

  • Less than one generation ago, the 1992 objective of the Single Market was little more than an idea.

Today, we face more challenges: climate change, demography, a globalised economy. These are challenges that no European country, no matter how big, can solve alone.

Much has been achieved:

  • A single market for over 500 million consumers;

  • The biggest developed economy in the world

  • External trade which represents 20% of world trade – by only 7% of the world population.

For consumers, workers, traders; these are tangible results that matter.

Will we manage to build on those achievements? President Barroso in his recent speech on the State of the Union said: "Europe is facing a crisis… A financial, economic and social crisis. And also a crisis of confidence. A crisis of confidence in our leaders, in Europe itself, and in our capacity to find solutions."

Will Europe be capable to continue to grow and create jobs? I believe it will! As President Barroso said: "C'est possible, et c'est nécessaire."

It starts with restoring confidence: confidence first and foremost in the capacity of national and European leaders to stimulate growth and to unleash the potential of our economy. Confidence that when we say we will act, we live up to our word.

You cannot be considered a trustworthy leader if those whom you should lead do not trust you. If you look at the latest Eurobarometer figures, you see that only 32 % of citizens trust their national governments. Yet 41 % trust the European Union. In both cases, citizens' level of trust is slowly but steadily waning.

Inceditentally, we are in the same boat on this one, as trust in the written press is also in the low 40's in percentage terms.

Only if we manage to restore confidence can we build again: we, a continent where growth is back and where young people see a future, you the newspapers in which readers find explanations, trusted analyses and guidance.

Our roadmap to confidence and growth is on the table: one of the basic points is adding economic governance to fiscal governance. Another basic point is making use of the Commission's capacity to propose, to implement and to control the commonly agreed rules to do so. Many indispensable actions have been accepted lately by the Council and the European Parliament.

Like the Union's right to review national budgets, so that deviations in one Member State can no longer put endanger other parts of Europe. Like supervising and strengthening the banking-sector, so that none of their weaknesses spill over to the real economy. These are our efforts to prevent a potential future crisis.

I know that when we= speak about fiscal reforms, you are specifically interested in:

Value Added Tax (VAT): The European Commission has issued last year a Green paper on the future of VAT. All interested parties were invited to react and submit their contributions. You have contributed. We have read your arguments carefully and we have understood your concerns. And I am sure that, along with my fellow Commissioners, we will make proposals supporting a smart taxation policy – a smart taxation policy that can both enable growth in industries such as yours, whilst simultaneously contributing to balanced national budget policies.

Another important political action to stimulate growth is the promotion of structural reforms so that we stay competitive in the internal market – our still underused wealth-capacity.

Structural reforms of course concern building communication links in transport, energy and broadband. Most of all cross-border connections are still missing today.

But they are also about eliminating barriers in the internal market, like creating a common European patent or a Common European Sales Law allowing cross-border selling and buying without the costs and complications of the current patchwork of contract-laws.

One major structural reform ahead of us is the reform of the data protection rules. We must adapt last century's European Union rules governing the use and processing of personal data to the challenges of the 21st century. We must ensure stronger data protection rules to give internet users more control over their personal data being used by the internet-business. And we must simplify the obligations for this business so that it can utilise the internal market as a whole.

Let me say here a word on the issue which is specifically of interest to you, the "right to be forgotten". This builds on existing principles such as the "data minimisation principle", in respect of which personal data should be processed only when strictly necessary. This principle will form a key element of the upcoming reform.

I will ensure that when an individual no longer wants his data to be processed and when there are no legitimate grounds to retain the data, it will be deleted. I know that there are many questions in your circles concerning this issue. Let me be clear: the rules are about empowering private individuals in relation to data-processors, not about erasing past events, rewriting history or restricting freedom of the press.

We will ensure that the implementation of the right to be forgotten within European data protection law will not affect the job of journalists to report and store stories of public interest.

So, clearly, the European Commission will combine freedom of the press, freedom of expression and freedom of information. I will certainly not hamper the ability of the press to perform because, as a Commissioner and former journalist, I know that there is nothing like a strong press to keep politicians sharp and on track!

The overall aim of the reform is of course also to tap into the full potential of the Single Market.

We know that growth will depend more and more on harnessing information technology. That is why the Commission is pushing for a digital single market.

The tools are ready to be used. These tools will not stay in the toolbox; we will take them in hand in order to tackle the challenges.

We know that the challenges in Europe are manifold. So are those concerning the newspaper sector.

Here again, we have much in common. We were both reported to be dying. But we have both managed to survive. We are both facing major challenges, and we are both tackling these head-on, changing the challenges into opportunities.

And opportunities there are:

According to opinion polls,

  • Your newspapers are read by one European citizen out of three every day.

  • The written press is read by three out of four citizens every week.

  • And among those who have studied, four out of five read your papers every week.

That is impressive!

Nobody buys a boring paper. It is clear, that there is a direct link between circulation and interesting content. Let me take as an example this page – it could be any page of a daily newspaper. On this page alone, there is more than twice the information I can convey to you during the 15 minutes allotted for my speech. With just a single page, you say in a newspaper twice as much as I can say to you today.

Multiply this by the number of pages and you get an amazing striking-force. That makes you, as Alexis de Tocqueville said: "le quatrième pouvoir" or the Fourth Estate. The power of the media to act as the citizen-control on the executive, the legislators and the judiciary!

I know that you – that we – worry about a possible impact of the new media on the traditional newspaper-business both in terms of income and in terms of effect. The digital era is clearly a major challenge for your sector, and we have seen rapid transformation taking place in just a few years!

Only recently, this challenge became clear with the case in the European Court of Justice concerning Olivier Martinez and his personal relationship with Kylie Minogue. His action against a British news group in France, despite his habitual residence in the United States, demonstrates the way in which the Internet has blurred national boundaries. Questions about "libel" will certainly be seen under a different angle in the future.

The court has clarified the question of the most appropriate jurisdiction for such action. The ruling ensures also that in relation to the e-commerce directive, the law should not unduly restrict freedom to provide services.

Less than one generation ago, the Internet was still a new continent. As pioneers, the press started to conquer it. Newspapers have invented new ways to reach their readers. Journalists had to adapt and handle a balanced combination between reacting swiftly on the web and taking time to reflect on paper.

I am deeply convinced that this balanced approach is the right way forward. This is because although Internet users are excited by the speed of the Internet and the volume of information, their trust in it remains low.

People want quick, short information. But they also need trusted sources and a stimulating democratic debate. They want journalists to hold to account those who govern, to select the information, to comment. And they give preference to their favourite newspaper, to their favourite professional journalists. You keep your advantage over the blogs and the proliferation of new media: "Confidence" is the rule of the game!

What about the new challenges ahead?

I see three main challenges:

First: the economic challenge. For you it means developing the new business model of the digital era and for the Commission, it means helping growth to resume and implementing the digital agenda. We have to be creative; we have to think ahead; we have to invent the future. We have both already done so. We both know we can achieve success.

Second: the inter-generational challenge. For you this means targeting the young generation into the habit of reading newspapers – understanding the pleasure and the benefit of doing so.

I was delighted about this advertising campaign designed to encourage parents to take out a subscription for their teenagers. "If on the mention of Francis Bacon, your son pictures a Sunday morning English breakfast… take out a subscription for him!" and my favorite was this one in French: "Votre fille croit que les accords de Schengen se jouent à la guitare? Offrez-lui une vraie source d'information!"

That is smart and that is creative!

And then the political challenge. I mentioned earlier the crisis of confidence Europe, the Euro and the European project faces today. To restore confidence and regain trust Europe has to show political leadership and unity.

The number of global problems, which can only be solved by countries acting together, continues to grow. Climate change, world trade, transnational crime, migration, fundamental rights… the list goes on and on. Instinctively, the citizens have understood that those problems can only be solved if Europe speaks and acts with one voice not least because in a globalised world, even supposedly big nations are very small.

Europe, with 500 million citizens, could become a real world power, if…

…yes, if we get our acts together. And our citizens on board.

To achieve this, citizens need to know, to understand, to participate. Who better than good newspapers can help to achieve this? 2013 will be the European Year of Citizens. A year to explain what Europe does for the individual and what the individual can do to strengthen this Europe.

We rely on you to get the message across. We rely on you to continue "to promote social cohesion, stimulate democratic debate, and hold to account those who govern" – to quote your Executive Director, Francine Cunningham. These words describe clearly our common objective, our common partnerships. We can and will make this partnership succeed. I know that I can count on you, and you know that you can count on the European Commission.

Thank you!

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