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The EU's War on the Web
Man in front of a display with the website of the internet search engine Google, Germany. (Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)

The EU's War on the Web

Walter Russell Mead

The European Union hates the future and it hates the internet; that, at least, is the spirit that animates new proposals in Brussels to squeeze American search engines to subsidize European news companies. The Financial Times:

The move will heap further pressure on the already strained relationship between Silicon Valley and Brussels, which are embroiled in increasingly fractious arguments over issues covering competition, tax and privacy. […]

At the heart of the draft copyright plan, news publishers would receive “exclusive rights” to make their content available online to the public in a move that would force services such as Google News to agree terms with news organisations for showing extracts of articles.

Citing dwindling revenues at news organisations, the commission warns that failure to push on with such a policy would be “prejudicial for . . . media pluralism”, according to one internal document.

Europe’s consumers, of course, don’t share the envy and hate of Silicon Valley that stirs the bureaucrats in Brussels. They google away like people do wherever censors and bureaucrats let them.

The rise of powerful information companies like Google and Facebook certainly raises questions for regulators, taxation authorities and legislators everywhere. We are still coming to grips with the kind of economic and information power these companies have, and the proper balance between the rights of consumers, companies and government is something that still has to be worked out.

But it’s hard not to notice a pattern in Europe’s performance. First, it fails to develop cutting edge companies. Then, when they develop (mostly though not exclusively in America), European bureaucrats try to tax and harass them. What Brussels really ought to be asking itself is why Europe isn’t generating Ubers, Lyfts, Googles, Palantirs, Facebooks and PayPals of its own. Europeans are smart, they are educated, they like money and they understand the importance of the information revolution as well as anybody else.

Brussels is perfectly willing to set up blue ribbon commissions and hold conferences on promoting a European information industry, but what it is not willing to do is to take on the embedded culture of protecting existing interests against new competition, to say nothing of its taxing and employment regulations, that lead so many smart Europeans to take their talent elsewhere.

As a publication, TAI intimately understands how Google has managed to take a huge share of the advertising revenue that once went to print outlets. Like the rest of the industry, we are working to adjust. But we don’t think that the answer is to force the new economy to subsidize the old. Google and its peers make our work easier to do even as they challenge an old and long established business model. But forcing the car industry to subsidize blacksmiths is not the way to build a better future.

The bureaucrats in Brussels, and the powerful European media cartels who pressure the politicians for economic relief are hurting Europe’s long term competitive position, not helping it. As long as Europe’s attitude toward the sunshine industries is hostile and cold, the future will continue to arrive elsewhere—in North America, Britain, Asia and Australia—and Europe will be stuck perpetually playing catch up.

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