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O-000006/2012 (B7-0030/2012)

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Wednesday, 15 February 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

17. Blind persons’ access to books (debate)
Video of the speeches

  President. The next item is the debate on the oral question to the Commission by Erminia Mazzoni, on behalf of the Committee on Petitions, on blind persons’ access to books (O-000006/2012) – (B7-0030/2012) (2011/2894(RSP)).


  Erminia Mazzoni, author. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the question arises from the petition presented by the European Blind Union to the Committee on Petitions, which I chair, in which the petitioners have asked the European Parliament to intervene to support the signing of an internationally binding treaty, in order to ensure that people who are blind, visually impaired or have difficulty reading can freely use books written in Braille, in large print and in audio format, produced in all countries and protected by copyright.

Currently, only 5% of publications can be used by this section of the population. The request follows the opposition expressed first by the Commission and then by the Council to the idea of signing this treaty. Both European institutions have proposed agreements between the stakeholders in the European Union, in the form of simple recommendations on a voluntary basis, under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). This is definitely a weak approach, which fails to protects the right of a considerable number of European citizens not to be marginalised. The huge limitations on free access to all publications have significant cultural implications, consequences of a social nature that are easy to imagine and, what is more, a negative impact on intellectual recovery and growth in terms of emancipation and independence for these citizens.

Important scientific studies have shown, in fact, that through the use of Braille, especially if it is learned at a young age, blind people can develop their powers of expression and communication and so develop their personality. Thus, allowing a more flexible copyright framework on works for the blind and visually impaired means meeting the needs of a group that is otherwise strongly discriminated against in practical terms.

The will expressed by the Commission and the Council appears to conflict with the 2010-2020 strategy for people with disabilities, and fails to take into account the guidelines contained in the report ‘Unlocking the potential of cultural and creative industries’, which Parliament voted on in this House in May of last year, in disregard of the prerogatives protected by Parliament’s Treaties. What is more, it does not respect the principles enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

It is difficult to understand why, on so sensitive a subject, the Commission has changed its position. There are many treaties, to which the EU is a party, relating to the regulation of intellectual property rights. There is currently a draft treaty in this regard under discussion before the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright. It is on this point that we are calling on the Commission and Council to review their position, because today we are witnessing the way these two institutions can, at one table, discuss European anti-discrimination legislation – the discussion is under way on the new general regulations in the fight against discrimination, particularly those involving the disabled – and, at another table, the same two institutions reject the possibility of breaking down such an obvious barrier.

Economic impediments can be discussed and a settlement can always be found. However, the fundamental principle that economic interests must never prevail over the protection of fundamental rights must remain firm. It is on this point that the committee that I chair decided to call upon the institutions, using a question, in an attempt to make the position of the Commission and Council more adequate, more consistent, and more just, as this Parliament has already expressed recently.


  Michel Barnier, Member of the Commission.(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to thank you, Ms Mazzoni, for giving me the opportunity to speak to Parliament about the issue of the exception to copyright rules for visually impaired people, and about current international discussions. As you know, the European Union is determined, by its very values, to advance the rights of people with disabilities and I have had personal discussions, Ms Mazzoni, with all those organisations which deal, in particular, with visual impairment.

It is vital that the full participation of people with disabilities in social, cultural and economic life becomes a genuine reality in our modern democratic societies. The European Commission has intervened, in particular – as you pointed out – with the 2010-2020 disability strategy. We support the full and effective recognition of the rights of these people with disabilities, as recognised, in particular, by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

That is the approach that we also uphold in current discussions within the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) concerning the rights of visually impaired people to which your question indeed refers.

I should like, ladies and gentlemen, to clarify things and be more specific. One element of the debate relates to the need for, and usefulness of, a legally binding international legal instrument on exceptions to copyright rules for visually impaired people. In other words, does the objective that we, both you and I, are pursuing, require or demand an international treaty or not?

Independently of this debate, we must also be pragmatic, and focus on a more concrete and more urgent issue. Can the text currently on the table, in its succinctness and in its substance, provide a practical, credible and effective solution to the problems encountered by visually impaired people?

As regards the European Union and current legislation, all Member States have introduced exceptions for visually impaired people in accordance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and with the directive on copyright in the information society. Furthermore, concrete measures have been taken to encourage, at the level of the European Union, cooperation between rights holders and organisations representing visually impaired people.

More than just an exception, what we also need, of course, is effective cooperation between creators and organisations of visually impaired people to ensure that books become accessible as quickly as possible in the most appropriate formats for those who need them. The need for books in accessible formats for visually impaired people is a real and urgent need. We must therefore ensure that the prime objective of the discussions is to find the best answer in concrete, practical, effective terms, and as quickly as possible.

Ladies and gentlemen, these discussions on substance must be a first step on the way to allowing us, once stakeholders have reached a joint, robust position, to determine the legal nature of the instrument to be introduced. Should it be a treaty? Should it be a recommendation? I am personally open to either of these two positions.

The Commission and the European Union are engaged in constructive discussions. We have helped to move the discussions forward by proposing, with the support of other States, a single text to replace the four previous texts. This text was greeted as a major step forward, also by the World Blind Union. However, I think we should go further in its material content.

On the occasion of the last meeting of WIPO, the European Union and its Member States asked for open discussions to be held on the substance of the text which had to be improved rapidly. Our position on the improvements to be made was communicated in writing and orally to our partners and to interested parties completely transparently. We would thus encourage our partners and all parties to the discussions to get to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible.

As it is a subject, Ms Mazzoni, ladies and gentlemen, in which I am interested and personally involved, as are associations for visually impaired people, I intend to make contact and to talk very shortly with all the governments of the European Union to make more rapid progress and home in on a concrete solution so as to resolve this issue along the lines called for in your question.


  Elena Băsescu, on behalf of the PPE Group. (RO) Mr President, I start by welcoming the initiative of Ms Erminia Mazzoni to address this oral question. According to estimates, in Europe, there are approximately 30 million people with visual impairment. Additional measures are necessary so that they do not suffer further shortcomings such as access to books. These determine limited opportunities for education, training and subsequent inclusion on the labour market. For example, statistics show that, at present, less than 25% of the blind succeed in obtaining employment. Technological progress provides new opportunities to increase the number of books accessible to visually impaired persons. An important element is the format diversification: audio and electronic books are now available in addition to the Braille publications.

What we are lacking is a European legislative framework enabling the publication and dissemination thereof. I call upon the Commission and the Council to double their efforts for this purpose including by supporting a specific exception from copyright. Furthermore, I consider that the exchange of experience and good practices must be promoted between Member States. In this context, I wish to point out that in Romania, public libraries have the legal obligation to establish sections with books in formats accessible to the blind. Finally, I would like to welcome the generosity of the authors and publishing houses voluntarily offering the rights of publication on a medium adapted for such people.


  Michael Cashman, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Mr President, I know Commissioner Barnier well. Commissioner, you have no time for discrimination. I have known you for a very long time and I have seen you defend the principle of equality.

Therefore, I wish to urge you to go further. As you know, we need to take positive action in tackling this worldwide book famine for the blind and people who are visually impaired, in full respect of copyright legislation. Parliament supports a binding treaty, organisations for the blind support a binding treaty, as do most countries. Therefore, Commissioner, I urge you to go forward. Your record on the principle of equality of access is second to none, but blind people across the world are victims of a worldwide book famine. I do not believe that the creators of these works stand as a barrier to access. Can we possibly imagine a world without access to the works of Shakespeare, Victor Hugo and the countless others that enrich our very lives? I urge you to do all you can.


  Marian Harkin, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, over the past two years, we have heard many debates in this Parliament about keeping the rules, whether it is the ‘six-pack’ or the ‘two-pack’ or the fiscal compact.

When it comes to money and budgets, we are asked to keep the rules. Yet when it comes to the rights of persons with a disability or to the petitioners, like the European Blind Union, up to now, we have been told that soft law recommendations and voluntary licences are a better option.

Commissioner Barnier, you spoke of cooperation, of identifying the best solutions, and you have said you are open to constructive discussions. Yet the Commission is not facilitating the access of blind EU citizens, and this is hardly honouring those fine words. What I hear from you right now is: yes, but not yet – we need further negotiations.

In my own country – Ireland – the National Council for the Blind tells us that millions of blind EU citizens face a book famine, in which only a low percentage of books are converted to an accessible format that they can read.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the work of the European Blind Union and the Parliament report on unlocking the cultural and creative industries, I believe, Commissioner, provide you and the Commission with a road map. I think all we are doing tonight is asking you to take that pathway.


  Margrete Auken, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(DA) Mr President, Commissioner, I will not repeat what has already been said concerning the scale of this problem. It is a major problem, and it is disgraceful, and the strategy that you have presented here will, in reality, achieve nothing. Nothing will happen with regard to what we heard earlier. There are a lot of pleasant words, but there is no action. I am not as nice as Mr Cashman, who tried to smother this in flattering words. I have no use for such things. I need to have clear answers right now. What we need is a proper treaty. We need a binding treaty. We need clear rules in this regard. There can be no point in ‘talking to our partners’ once again. This really is just words. So far, in all these years, nothing has happened. We have said it before and we will say it again: we are in agreement here in this Parliament, and most Member States support this. Therefore, it is no good us behaving as if the problem can be resolved by simply talking about it. The Treaty deals with binding agreements, and it concerns real exemptions and not peculiar arrangements. This is not a commercial issue. It is not about making money – or, more correctly, it should not be about making money. It is about people who want to do something to give the blind something like the same opportunities that the rest of us have. As Mr Cashman put it so clearly earlier, it is terrible to imagine how many people are actually cut off because the interests governing this issue are far too narrow. This time, therefore, I hope you will take us seriously.


  Claudio Morganti, on behalf of the EFD Group. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, welcome once again to Commissioner Barnier. A recent survey published in Italy reports that a blind or visually impaired person reads an average of nine books a year, a very high figure if we consider that the national average is three books per person. Furthermore, no less than 30% of these readers read every day. From these data, it is easy to see that reading is extremely important for people with eyesight problems and I find it really absurd that these issues related to copyright cannot be easily overcome.

The development of new technologies and digital formats should significantly increase the supply, but the problem of copyright often becomes a stumbling block, because of its costs which impact negatively on the decision of publishers and producers. I think that we should therefore, as soon as possible, find an agreement that excludes this particular category of books designed for those in need from the law on copyright and that such an agreement shall be binding in order to avoid possible discriminatory situations.

Books are culture, and people with visual impairments must have the same rights as everyone else to enjoy this valuable opportunity which, as I mentioned at the beginning, blind people make great use of and greatly appreciate.


  Heinz K. Becker (PPE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, as a member of the Committee on Petitions, I would be in favour of Parliament voting against non-binding arrangements. With reference to Ms Mazzoni’s resolution, I believe that we will soon be faced with further steps, namely, that we will also need to consider the online sector. I have established that steps in this direction are already under way in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. However, once the online issue is added, the topic will become even more difficult.

I welcome the fact that these issues are now to be regulated at European level. The good news is that the number of people with visual impairment is declining thanks to medical advances. For this reason, as a member of the Committee on Petitions, I would call on you, Commissioner, to do the right thing by the visually impaired, who suffer discrimination, and enable them to access the most important cultural asset we have, namely the book.


  Phil Prendergast (S&D). – Mr President, this oral question highlights once again the vice-like grip copyright holders have on books and information, even in such an innocuous instance as this.

Blind and print-disabled persons have the same right of access to books as everyone else. However, their rights and their reality are completely at odds with one another, as these people continue to live through what is being termed a ‘book famine’.

The European Blind Union, the European Dyslexia Association, the Dyslexia Association of Ireland, the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament, and even Parliament itself, have all called on the Commission and the Council to create binding legislation through the World Intellectual Property Organisation, yet the Commission and Council continue to walk the path of soft legislation, despite expert advice and guidance from blind persons’ organisations arguing to the contrary.

Put simply, this legislation would allow organisations to make an adapted copy of books and therefore make more books available to blind and print-disabled persons. That would be an intrinsic good. The need for this legislation is abundantly clear to me, as it should be to everyone in this House.


  Luigi Berlinguer (S&D).(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, what we are asking for is a new treaty to regulate exceptions for the visually impaired on cultural works and on books. This is not charity – it is a fundamental right to access culture.

The European Union and, in particular, the Commission, has not been particularly active: it has not done enough and has, in my opinion, been too conservative, almost to the point, in essence, of boycotting the Treaty itself. I refer to the amendments proposed by the European Union in November in Geneva. Fine words need to be followed up by concrete action.

Voluntary agreements are not enough: it is a treaty that we need. So we must remove the legal obstacles that block the circulation and usage of works in Braille and in electronic format, the latter being particularly suitable for the visually impaired. We must no longer come up with the pretext that the treaty represents a danger for copyright per se.


  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D).(LT) Mr President, Europe is home to millions of people for whom books have to be provided in an accessible format – audio, Braille or large print books. However, publishers are rarely interested in such book formats. Therefore, only around 5% of global works are published in a format that is accessible for the visually impaired.

There is, at present, no legal standard that would provide for exception to copyright for cross-border distribution of formats adapted for the blind. Commissioner, do you agree that remedying this state of affairs would entail changing international copyright law in order to let people legally share collections of books across the European Union and beyond?

I would like to call on the Commission and the Council to adopt a binding ‘books without borders’ treaty, which would enable the blind and partially sighted to share published materials worldwide. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is considering the possibility of drawing up an international treaty to improve access to books for the blind and other visually impaired people, and Commissioner, I therefore ask you to support this treaty, as does the blind and partially sighted community in my country, Lithuania.


Catch-the-eye procedure


  Ádám Kósa (PPE).(HU) Mr President, society tends to believe that accessibility is about lifts, ramps and handrails. This is not so. A large portion of people with disabilities – including the deaf, the hard of hearing and, the focus of this debate, the visually impaired and the blind – are denied access to information. Mr President, please record in the minutes that my sign language interpreter did not translate for me just now on my own request, with which I intended to demonstrate what it means to not have access to information. Only 5% of the visually impaired are able to read books. Active political cooperation is necessary.


  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D). (RO) Mr President, at the EU-27 level, less than 5% of the published books are accessible to the blind and visually impaired individuals. Such people must have access to published books or printed material in Braille, audio or electronic format. The blind do not have adequate access to books written in Braille format either in bookshops or in libraries. Libraries must be equipped with terminals for the blind which should enable them to have adequate access to literary works in electronic format.

Most of these people are unemployed and therefore do not have an adequate income. That is why financial accessibility to literary works in Braille, electronic or audio format is extremely important. I support the creation of an online European catalogue of works available in accessible formats. I also support a legally binding treaty concerning copyright for books and materials published in electronic format for visually impaired people.


  Izaskun Bilbao Barandica (ALDE).(ES) Mr President, Commissioner, many blind and visually impaired people are listening to you today.

The aim of the European disability strategy 2010-2020 is to remove barriers in lives, but currently, only 5% of books are accessible. These people are limited when it comes to learning, becoming informed and reading like everyone else can, and we do not currently have the tools to quench their thirst for reading.

For that reason, they hoped to hear you were going to work for a binding agreement so that they can access culture, without being reminded of their disability every day.

Consider their thirst, Commissioner, and work for that binding agreement, but keep in mind, too, that we are all potentially disabled.


  Eva Lichtenberger (Verts/ALE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, to be honest, your answer disappointed me a little. You obviously want to stick to the old system of complex negotiations with each country, which will again mean that there will be no greater access to literature, in other words, no further opportunities for the blind and visually impaired. I find this doubly sad because the European Union is now blocking a forward step in the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), while many other partners to the treaty would be prepared to move forward. We are missing a huge opportunity here. You are not campaigning in favour of more rights for authors, but rather against people who are to be guaranteed equal access to cultural assets under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, so that they can also fully share in these cultural assets. I am calling on you to remove these barriers and to sign up to a binding treaty.


  Kay Swinburne (ECR). – Mr President, I welcome the motion for a resolution which has resulted from citizens petitioning and agree that we should ensure that books and other written documents are made accessible to our blind and partially-sighted citizens.

The results of a recent study commissioned by the Royal National Institute for the Blind revealed that a mere 15% of the top one thousand most popular books were made available in alternative formats. This is clearly limiting blind people’s access to written material. However, advances in technology are resulting in improved and expanded opportunities being made available to those currently disadvantaged by the absence of suitable print media. We need to ensure that appropriate technology is suitably funded so that blind and partially-sighted citizens can benefit at a reasonable cost from the new computerised solutions emerging. As we all begin to make the transition to electronic formats for our books, we need to ensure that suitable devices and computer applications for the blind are also being developed so that they, too, can participate in this new way of accessing literature.


  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). (SK) Mr President, our blind and visually-impaired citizens have approached me for help in resolving their problem concerning the granting of exemptions from copyright for the cross-border distribution of works specially made ​​or modified for them.

The Copyright Committee of the World Intellectual Property Organisation proposes to deal with the request by the blind and print-disabled community by means of a binding international treaty that would open up copyright for them, giving them unrestricted access to special printed matter from other countries. For the representatives of our blind and visually-impaired fellow citizens, this would be a better solution than the adoption of non-binding recommendations as proposed by the representatives of the European Union, and they are therefore striving to achieve a change in the position of the EU. Since Parliament already assessed such a solution as being appropriate in April 2011, we should support the request made by our visually-impaired and blind fellow citizens.


  Nicole Sinclaire (NI). – Mr President, I am pleased to support any initiative that empowers and enables physically disadvantaged people, in this case, the blind and partially sighted.

The EU has been, in my opinion, insensitive to the needs of millions of blind and partially-sighted people. All Member States and relevant institutions should make the strongest possible representations to the World Intellectual Property Organisation in Geneva in June for a full, binding treaty. This is the best way to ensure the fundamental right to read that is currently denied to far too many – apparently 300 million worldwide.

Put an end to this famine.


  Peter Jahr (PPE).(DE) Mr President, I would also like to thank the previous speakers for their discipline. I am very grateful to Ms Mazzoni for taking up these resolutions. What is the issue at stake? The resolution refers to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, according to which discrimination on grounds of disability is to be prevented, and calls on the Council and Commission to press for a treaty to be concluded within the framework of the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Thus, the Committee on Petitions will repeat a decision made by Parliament last year, in which we already called for a legally binding solution. Commissioner, I am sure you will understand our irritation and impatience at having to urge you yet again to take up Parliament’s suggestion and to do all that you can to ensure that a binding treaty is concluded. The time is finally ripe. We really are talking about some of the weakest members of society. We are talking about people with a disability, and this group has earned a binding treaty.


  Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE).(ES) Mr President, I wanted to take the floor because, to be quite honest, I am flabbergasted.

Thirty million people in Europe have difficulties with vision or reading, but only 5% of books are in a readable format for them, and that is in rich countries, it is not even 1% in poor countries. What does the champion for basic rights do? What does the European Union do? It hides behind economic reasons. Rather than defending a fundamental, basic principle, what it does is find problems when it should be taking the lead on the worldwide stage in the fight for an international agreement that specifically allows access to reading for people with difficulties. These people are starved of reading.

What surprises me is that it has to be the European Parliament that urges the Commission, represented here, to lead this debate in international fora. The same message would be conveyed to the Council if it were present.

What has to be done, will be done, however, and we obviously hope that this debate will help to alter some of the attitudes that have been obstructive up to now.


  Angelika Werthmann (NI).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, there are 30 million visually impaired people in the EU. They are robbed of the right to the same unrestricted access to books that sighted people enjoy. Let me put this a different way. If we state things precisely, then visually impaired people are robbed of the right to education. At a time in which we are campaigning for better training and education, we are guilty of excluding visually impaired people from these opportunities. This discrimination has to stop. So, please lend your support to the cause of the visually impaired, giving them equal opportunities and, above all, take action.


End of the catch-the-eye procedure


  Michel Barnier, Member of the Commission.(FR) Mr President, first of all, I am very happy that all of you have put your questions vehemently, critically, with the utmost sincerity, to the Commission and, on the whole, I feel encouraged by what you have requested from the Commission.

I have listened very attentively to you, ladies and gentlemen, on a subject in which I am, for a number of reasons, personally involved in my public life, namely, the place of people with disabilities, whatever their disability or illness. I believe, indeed, as Ms Harkin said when she spoke about a citizen’s Europe, as Ms Lichtenberger said, that those with the greatest difficulties, with the greatest vulnerabilities, who have a disability, have more right than others to the accessibility to which you, Ms Lichtenberger, referred.

Many of you, Mr Morganti, Ms Băsescu, Ms Blinkevičiūtė, Ms Werthmann, Ms Ţicău, Mr Romeva, have mentioned the number of people – several million – who suffer from a disability and, particularly, from a visual impairment. In my case, to pick up on what Mr Cashman has just said, I find the current discrimination towards these people intolerable. I say this also to Ms Prendergast and Ms Swinburne, who spoke on this subject.

We are involved in a dialogue with our international partners and the Commission intends to work, as it has been encouraged to do by the view of the European Parliament, to advance the rights of visually impaired people. Before embarking on a legally binding treaty, as you wish to do and to which I am open – and I shall tell you under which conditions – we must, ladies and gentlemen, and I would ask you to understand this, identify what should be the content of this text so that it genuinely provides satisfactory solutions to the problem of discrimination against people with disabilities.

I am a very down-to-earth person. I am very sensitive to this cause. I have worked on it since the beginning of my mandate as European Commissioner through meeting with associations dealing with visual impairments, and I met with them again just a few days ago in Spain and at their European Federation in Brussels. I met people from WIPO.

I have also – Ms Auken, Mr Becker, as I am talking about practical solutions – actively worked on a memorandum of agreement that I signed personally some months ago, in September 2010, between publishers and visually impaired people. This agreement provides for the introduction of structures, a network of intermediaries which will enable the circulation and distribution to visually impaired people of works accessible throughout the entire European Union. I told you what I could do immediately and I am committed to that. What we must do immediately is to work with publishers and with associations for visually impaired people on these concrete steps forward and we shall continue to work on the most effective text of a potential legally binding treaty.

Today, there is a considerable distance between the compromise text which has been drawn up and the concrete progress that we must make. Nor is it clear, indeed, that it is sufficiently useful, in particular, for visually impaired people. I would therefore say to Ms Harkin, Mr Paška, Mr Jahr, and to each and every one of you, that what I think is needed for genuine progress – and not speeches, wishes or texts, of a merely technical or legal nature, as the Commission sometimes does – for genuine practical progress, I must be sure of the quality of the content and, in this respect, we have made clear, constructive suggestions to all our partners.

How can we embark, as you wish, on producing a legally binding treaty? If I want to do that, I need a mandate from the Council. First of all, I need an agreement from the College. I think that I will get it. Furthermore, I need an agreement from the Council and I shall ask for this mandate in order to negotiate a legally binding treaty, subject to approval by the Commission.

However, Ms Auken, you have said that all Member States agree on this. That is not the information that I have. Today, a number of states, for other governmental reasons, do not yet share this line of thinking. What I need is sufficient support. I am perfectly happy to ask the Council for a mandate, but if I fail, if the Council refuses to give me one, we shall have made no progress. Consequently, I should like, over the coming weeks, to find a satisfactory agreement at the level of the Member States in order to be able to pursue actively the idea of a treaty. Ladies and gentlemen, I shall meet the governments, one by one, and I shall ask for this mandate in a forthcoming Council meeting. However, I want to be sure that I will get it and I want to be sure that it will bring about a practical change to the situation.

That is my current thinking. I say this to you: a proposal that I shall make to my fellow Members of the European Commission to gain the agreement of the College in order to request this mandate; a discussion that I shall conduct personally with my colleagues, with each of the governments which belong to the Council to obtain this mandate, and then we shall to able to make progress.

Mr Berlinguer, you know perfectly well that I am not a conservative. I say this also to Ms Bilbao. I feel encouraged by your resolution. I say this, in particular, to Ms Mazzoni and I say this also in a very particular way to your colleague, Mr Kósa, who spoke extremely clearly in favour of this treaty. These are the steps that I intend to take. As I usually do what I say I am going to do, I shall be particularly careful to report to you on these steps extremely clearly and openly, so that you are informed about any difficulties that I may encounter. However, I am going to make progress on this issue in the context of respect for the Charter of Fundamental Rights, of the Convention and of the Treaty. I am going to make real progress in the coming weeks along the lines that I have just explained to you.


  President. – I have received one motion for a resolution tabled in accordance with Rule 115(5) of the Rules of Procedure(1).

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 16 February, at 12.00.

Written statements (Rule 149)


  Paweł Robert Kowal (ECR), in writing.(PL) I am strongly in favour of the motion for a resolution on Petition 0924/2011 by Dan Pescod, on behalf of the European Blind Union (EBU)/Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), on access by blind people to books and other printed products.

We should show particular sensitivity to the needs of the millions of blind and partially sighted people in Europe. These people, as well as other people who have difficulty reading because of a disability, need publications in accessible formats, such as large print, audio or Braille. Today, particularly in view of the widespread availability of the Internet, access to information – rapid access, without further barriers – is, in fact, something which guarantees that people are able to exercise their civil and social rights in full. The lack of this access means, in reality, a restriction of the rights of citizens who, as it is, are already the victims of a disability. Facilitating access to the benefits of culture in the form of books, discs and the press is an essential part of what should be done to help blind and visually impaired people and, most importantly, it determines whether they can obtain the education they need. We ought to do whatever is in our power to ensure that the millions of blind and partially sighted people in Europe can enjoy their fundamental right – the right to read and to have access to books and publications.


  Alexander Mirsky (S&D), in writing. – Nowadays, there is a growing trend to concentrate on our personal problems without thinking about others. However, there are people who are limited in their capabilities due to some strokes of fate. Our duty is not only to accept them but to do our best to make them feel fully-fledged members of our society. By facilitating access to books for the blind, we are taking the right path towards this aim. The blind should be protected and assisted by internationally binding laws and treaties; their access to books and other printed product should be facilitated to the maximum extent possible.


  Olga Sehnalová (S&D), in writing. – (CS) In October last year, I signed an initiative of the World Blind Union, together with the European Blind Union, which calls for an effective solution to the problem of availability of books and other printed materials for blind people and people with reading disabilities. The initiative demands that the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) adopt a legally binding exemption in relation to copyright in the area of copying and other distribution of printed materials. The Commission and the Council, however, are proposing only a non-binding recommendation, which I consider wholly insufficient. I therefore fully support the European Parliament resolution, which follows on from a question on the oral response of Erminia Mazzoni and calls on the Commission to reconsider its position. I consider this step to be a logical continuation of the support from the European Parliament which, in its resolution of May last year on unleashing the potential of the cultural and creative sectors of industry, backed the legally binding nature of this copyright exemption. In practice, that would mean including the exemption in the relevant binding legislation, both at international level – modifying WIPO treaties – and at European level – Directive 2001/29/EC. The Commission has a key role, of course, in both cases. In view of the options now offered by the new communications media, including the Internet, which we make ever greater use of in everyday life, it would be truly regrettable if we did not also make full use of this opportunity to benefit blind people and people with reading disabilities.


  Joanna Katarzyna Skrzydlewska (PPE), in writing.(PL) For people who have a visual disability, the lack of books published in accessible formats is a barrier which is both significant and difficult to remove, making full integration with society impossible. The restricted access to such publications which affects blind or visually impaired people also means restricted access to opportunities to enhance their knowledge, obtain an education and, in relation to this, improve their situation in the labour market. There is no doubt that all European Union bodies should support measures which aim to promote equal opportunities for disabled people and to combat their social exclusion.

In my opinion, therefore, the draft of the treaty advanced, among others, by the World Blind Union, requires very careful attention and should not be blocked by the European Union. The measures proposed in the treaty make it easier for people who have a visual disability to use published material on the basis of international exchange, which also combats discrimination against blind and visually impaired people.


(1) See Minutes

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