Commission ignores book pricing plea

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Series Details Vol 7, No.1, 4.1.01, p3
Publication Date 04/01/2001
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Date: 04/01/01

By John Shelley

THE European Commission is to ignore a formal request from member states for proposals to protect national systems of fixed book pricing.

Officials say they have no plans to take specific action following last autumn's plea from culture ministers, and insist they are already doing all they can legally in this area. "The resolution is a general political signal; it is pretty meaningless and has been forgotten within a few weeks," said one.

The call from governments was led by the former French presidency, eager for Union action to protect national rules setting minimum prices which retailers can charge for books. Such measures are designed to promote diversity and safeguard small retailers by defending the 'culturally important' book industry against the full ravages of a free market.

German and Austrian publishers were forced to break up a joint pricing agreement last year after the Commission said it restricted free trade across borders. But other systems have been cleared by competition officials because they do not affect trade between nations.

Many EU states want Union-wide rules to stop companies from abroad, particularly Internet firms, circumventing national regulations. But Commission officials say that because systems of price-fixing vary widely from one country to the next, this would be impossible.

They also argue that without a legal basis in the EU treaty, such measures could be open to legal challenge. "They are asking us to turn a blind eye to breaches of competition rules to a certain extent but if the Commission makes a decision that does not stand up in court, it would be overturned anyway," said one.Officials claim France knew the executive would refuse to act but, anxious to score points on a thorny issue back home, pushed the resolution through anyway.

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