Tech Firms Blast EC President Barroso

Leaders of seven electronics companies complain after the European Commission buries reforms for the EU Internet download market

Seven leaders of big-hitting electronics firms say their confidence is shaken in European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, after Brussels late last year buried reforms of the EU internet download market.

"Industry's confidence has been shaken by the sudden withdrawal of the proposed reforms, we look to you personally to lead the way forward," the lobby of CEOs, chairmen and corporate presidents said in a 12 February letter addressed to the commission chief.

The broadside was signed by EU firms Nokia and Philips, US companies Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Intel as well as Japanese giants Matsushita and Sony. Collectively, the seven companies have sales of some €320 billion a year - three times the EU's annual budget.

The criticism comes after Mr Barroso last December canned a recommendation from his right-hand man on the single market - Charlie McCreevy - one week before it was due out. The document had threatened to re-carve the fast-growing, €1.6 billion a year sector of so-called "private copy levies."

The commission president made the surprise move just a few days after a memo from Paris told him EU member states want a "deeper dialogue" on the levies, despite the fact that Brussels had already carried out a year-long stakeholders' consultation on the subject.

France argued that the status quo - which sees European artists' trade unions skim a fee off most internet-related gadgets to compensate for piracy - promotes "cultural diversity." Mr Barroso's move won praise from artists' groups, fronted by stars like film-maker Pedro Almodovar.

The computer sector has already threatened to take Brussels to the EU courts to get its way, saying new anti-piracy software has put the old levy regime out of date. The stinging letter came complete with 2006 quotes from Mr Barroso's own commissioners and cabinet staff expressing "confidence" the reform would take place last year.

"A reply will be sent shortly," Mr Barroso's spokeswoman told EUobserver on Wednesday (14 February). "It's likely to say that this is a complex issue and that we need further consultation with stakeholders," she added, with Brussels still declining to name a day for any new proposals in the field.

The spokeswoman brushed aside suggestions that the commission chief is going soft on EU capitals in some areas in order to help smooth his own reappointment after 2009. "He's not thinking about that. He's just doing his work," she said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.