EU membership 'crucial to publishing' warns Mandelson

EU membership 'crucial to publishing' warns Mandelson

Labour life peer Lord Peter Mandelson has urged publishers to vote "with sense and realism in their heads" in the EU Referendum on 23rd June, telling publishers that the development of the single market is "essential for your businesses".

Lord Mandelson and prominent Eurosceptic MP Sir William Cash represented both sides of the EU referendum debate at the Publishers Association's a.g.m. yesterday (18th March), held at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London.

In front of the PA, its council members and press, Mandelson made the case for staying in Europe, stressing the benefits that a single regulated market provides with access to 500m people and a market that accounts for over 35% of physical book export revenues. He also spoke of the freedom it provides publishers to move goods, services, finance, people and their ideas around Europe, "without impediment and without high cost". He added that the EU protection of copyright for authors and creators was "so crucial to your businesses" and credited it with ensuring the UK retains an influential, "liberalising" role as "rule makers rather than rule takers".

Lord Peter Mandelson urged publishers to vote to stay in the EU

"Given all these circumstances and conditions, why then are we being asked to take a huge leap in the dark, to throw up our entire economy in order to have the excitement of seeing where it might land in the future, to throw a pile of sand into the cogs of our trading relationship with Europe, just to satisfy the factional ambitions of those who want to take Britain back into the past?" he asked.

"Europe is not any old market for Britain. It's our home market, it's where we are, we are European, it's where we live and work. And it's not any old market for publishers either - it's a sophisticated, cultivated market across Europe which has a huge appetite for the English language - a demand almost insatiable for the UK's cultural output, of which books are an essential part - great products in themselves but also providing the raw content themselves for games, films and TV."

Referencing the EU's "muscle to take on Google" in investigating exploitative market dominance, he argued government is most effective "when it is operating at the right levels".

He added that the "further development" of the single market was "absolutely essential" for publishers' businesses "to iron out unnecessary barriers and to create opportunities to discover, to develop and to sell what you are best at: that is, creative ideas."

But while Mandelson cautioned publishers not to "pull up the draw bridge", citing £250bn worth of trade it generates for the UK, Sir Cash took the opposing view. 

Eurosceptic MP Sir William Cash spoke in favour of a Brexit

"You don't have to be wearing red, white and blue to come to the conclusions that I do," Cash said, as he argued the UK was experiencing a deficit in goods and services to the tune of £68bn every year, which, according to Sir Cash, increased by a £9bn this year alone, while Germany experiences a trade surplus of £81.8bn. 

Beyond the numbers, he went on to criticise the EU's "opaque manner" and fundamentally "dysfunctional and unreformable system" which had "moved away from its original objectives". He argued it was this dysfunctionality and "lack of accountability" that could lead to "the rise of far right populism" if left unchecked.

"There is nothing anti-European about being pro democracy," he said. "It's about democracy and who governs you. And that is a hugely important question, because it is literally about our future. And it is to some extent about our past. People fought and died for this."

Taking questions from the floor, including from HarperCollins c.e.o. Charlie Redmayne, who asked what would happen to the EU if Britain left, Mandelson said he couldn't predict the outcome to businesses should the UK vote to leave the Union. 

"I don't know what sort of deal we would be able to negotiate," he said, "I think if we were to vote 'go' you would find the goodwill [of EU countries toward the UK] evaporate." He further predicted the initial reaction of the European Union would be to "close ranks and emphasise their unity and integration".

"Our publishing industry is not the only one that is the envy of Europe," Mandelson said "But what we do is excel at cross border content. Ideas with a pan-European, pan-universal appeal, whether it be Harry Potter or Jamie Oliver or indeed The Third Man, my bestselling memoir [...] Whatever it is, putting up barriers, or not taking down the ones that exist, is a huge missed opportunity for business and indeed what you sell."

The a.g.m. also saw chief executive of the Publishers Association, Stephen Lotinga, pay tribute to outgoing president Joanne Prior, m.d. Penguin General, and welcome incoming president Stephen Barr, m.d. Sage UK (below).

Prior, stepping down as president after a year's term, issued a plea for the PA to continue to support the work it has been doing in the "Reading for Pleasure" campaign, a PA initiative highlighting charities' work promoting literacy and reading for pleasure so "everyone can unlock their potential". She added: "It goes without saying we don't have a business without these readers."

Barr, stepping into the role from vice president last year, said the PA needed to lobby to prevent the "erosion" of copyright, with potential for the digital single market to introduce new exceptions in Europe. "We need organisations and people representing us to the powers that be in the UK and Europe," he said.

A second key agenda, in the context of open access, was to address the "dangerous" and increasingly commonplace opinion that publishers run "interference" in what would otherwise be the "unconstrained" world of academia. This "threatens mechanisms that support quality controls and provides authority to academic literature," he said, and "there is a story that we have not adequately told."

Finally, he emphasised the importance of "freedom of speech", saying it was not just an issue for "others countries". Barr said the Defamation Act at present was only "a job half done" because it was only in force England and Wales, not in Scotland. The effect could be that publications with any kind of Scottish audience are forced to make decisions based on unreformed Scottish law, where publishers have fewer libel defences, as opposed to up-to-date English law. "Let's see if we can complete that task," he said. "Until that loophole is closed we have not completed that job."