Victory! The European Parliament’s Legal Affairs committee takes first steps towards ending unjustified geo-blocking!

PRESS RELEASE, 24 October 2023, Brussels

By 11 votes to 10, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs (JURI) committee approved MEP Karen Melchior’s report on the Geo-blocking Regulation. The report, which passed despite extensive lobbying by the audio-visual sector, calls for measures to ensure linguistic minorities and cross-border communities, as well as citizens who move permanently to another member-state, can still access culture in their native language. Its proposals should form the first steps in the proposed gradual abolishment of geo-blocking of audio-visual content, which is expected to be approved by the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee tomorrow.

In 2018, the European Parliament voted to end geo-blocking in the EU but decided to let geo-blocking of audiovisual content (like films, series, and sports) continue. Ever since, this has been a significant headache for EU citizens: we’ve all been there, not being able to access a series that is supposed to be on Netflix, wanting to watch a popular series but finding it’s not available on any platform where you live, or moving to another country only to find you can’t access any of the content you bought at home.

It is an even more significant problem in border regions and for linguistic minorities across the EU, for example, in Belgium, where the German-speaking community are increasingly cut off from films and series in German. In the past, this was never an issue: citizens would tune their TVs to receive content from the neighbouring country and buy media content from there, but now, when they try to access content online, they are geo-blocked, cutting them off from culture in their language. Similar issues apply to citizens who move to another EU country, and it is particularly hard for parents of bi-national families who can’t provide their children access to culture in their native language.

These issues were among those raised at the recent EU Commission stakeholder dialogue with the audiovisual sector, which ended in a stalemate. Hence, as the 2018 regulation celebrates its fifth birthday, the EU faces growing calls from citizens and civil society to give the law a much-needed update. In the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, Renew MEP Karen Melchior has been leading the work on this update, along with her colleagues in the IMCO (Internal Market and Consumer Protection) and CULT (Culture and Education) Committees.

For Ms Melchior, the frustrations citizens face must be addressed:

Radio or TV waves and Blu-ray discs don’t stop at borders in Europe, so why should video-on-demand?”.

MEP Karen Melchior

The Renew MEP also highlighted how consumers’ habits are changing: productions like the Spanish series, La Casa del Papel or Danish Series Borgen have seen incredible success in all EU countries, and more and more citizens want legal access to different content from across the EU.

MEP Melchior proposed solutions to these challenges, urging rapid action to address the challenges faced by linguistic minorities, cross-border communities and citizens who move to another EU country. Her draft report also explored charting a pathway towards completely ending geo-blocking, how the business model for films and series needs to adapt to better meet consumers expectations in the future, and how the EU can support the sector.

But the draft-report also faced furious attacks from the audiovisual sector, who see any change to the status quo as a threat to their business-model, calling the report “unnecessary”, and claiming existing laws, which let linguistic minorities access the news in their native language, are sufficient. Months of negotiations followed, with lobbyists from the sector continuing to apply pressure on MEPs. Despite this, in the end, for the first time, a majority in the JURI committee agreed that change was needed, calling to end geo-blocking for cross-border communities and linguistic minorities and find ways to solve the challenges faced by citizens who move to another EU country.

MEP Melchior also worked in close contact with the IMCO Committee so that the proposed changes can form the first steps of the gradual abolishment of geo-blocking of audiovisual content that the IMCO committee is proposing. IMCO will vote on the issue on the 25th of October.

Commenting on the result of the vote in JURI, MEP Melchior said 

“After months of complex negotiations, I’m delighted that the Legal Affairs committee finally recognises the harm the status quo is causing, particularly for cross-border communities and linguistic minorities, and called for pragmatic changes that benefit citizens. I hope these proposals constitute the first steps in the gradual abolishment of geo-blocking of audiovisual content as proposed by the IMCO committee

The motto of our Union is “United in Diversity”, and our audiovisual sector is one of the most significant examples of the strength of our diversity. But for it to truly bring Europeans together, we need to remove barriers that limit how much of the rich fabric of European culture they can experience. That is what citizens today demand: our media consumption habits are changing, and laws must change with them.”


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