More than 18 months after publication of its Green Paper, the European Commission, has taken a significant step towards establishing a framework for cross-border commercial communications in Europe.
The guiding principle that emerged from the Green Paper was that a balance should be struck between the importance of the commercial communications sector in driving economic growth and the protection of consumers.
The paper generated a high level of comment with responses from 433 interested parties, representing a spectrum of interests from across the member states ranging from advertising agencies and their associations to major cross-border advertisers, members of the media and national consumer groups. Priority areas singled out for special attention included the protection of children, unfair competition, sponsorship and the making of misleading claims.
In the light of this consultation process, the Commission has now decided to adopt a range of actions which it hopes will form the basis of a transparent system designed to satisfy the interests of most, if not all, parties.
The new system is based around the concept of “proportionality” and in- cludes a new method of assessing whether or not legislation applied locally, which may act as a restriction to cross-border communications, is “proportional to the public interest objective”.
At its core is a group of experts from the member states who will “seek solutions to restrictions”. Other proposed initiatives include setting up a central contact point for communications issues, a database of regulatory material relating to com- munications and the establishment of a network of academic experts.
Single market commissioner Mario Monti believes the proposals achieve a fair balance between the desire to foster a favourable environment for cross-border communications and the duty to exercise responsibility in protecting the public interest.
“In particular, we have taken account of the different social and cultural situations in the various member states,” he comments. “At the same time we have prepared the ground for the further development of the commercial communications sector in the European Union, which is vital for creating sustainable jobs and ensuring the EU’s competitiveness.”
Significantly, Monti’s statement gives a clear indication that the EC is keenly aware of the dangers of undermining the right to commercial freedom of speech in Europe and is committed to developing a framework that will encourage a healthy communications industry in the future.
This is evident throughout the EU’s paper, which recognises the communications sector as an important, expanding source of economic growth and employment, in itself and in terms of driving for-ward the internal market.