Friday 9 December 2016

Meeting the power players of the European book world

European institutions impact hugely on our book trade, Madeleine Keane discovered on a trip to Brussels

Published 27/02/2011 | 05:00

When you're invited to a beautiful European capital for a spot of soft lobbying, you can hardly say no. And so I rose at 4am one wet, dark dawn earlier this month. The vast empty spaces of Terminal 2 made up for the unspeakably early start; it helped greatly, too, that I was among my people. Book people that is.

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A delegation of us were Brussels bound. By a stroke of coincidence usually only found in the novels of PG Wodehouse, presidency of the two major book trade associations in the EU are held by Irish people. John McNamee, of Eason Portlaoise/ Laois Education Supplies, is president of the European Booksellers Federation and Fergal Tobin, publishing director of Gill & Macmillan, is president of the Federation of European Publishers.

Fergal and John had kindly invited me as part of a 20-strong group of Irish booksellers, publishers and various industry representatives to see, at first hand, the role that the European institutions play in our sector and the impact they can have. Much of the law governing copyright, taxation, digitisation and similar issues either originates in Brussels or is heavily influenced by it.

Our first stop was the office of the Federation of European Publishers, where we got an overview of its work and that of the European Booksellers Federation. Over strong coffee and chocolate croissants, Fergal explained that their principal activities "involve lobbying MEPs and members of the Commission to argue the case for the continuation of a balanced copyright regime; to try to resolve the anomalies that attend the taxation of content on different platforms; and generally to keep a beady eye on proposed legislation or other legal instruments that might affect the European book trade. And by the book trade, we mean print-on-paper, digital and audio."

The centrepiece of the day was a visit to the Permanent Representation of Ireland to the European Union, a long title for an extremely important hub for our beleaguered, little nation. Here is where all the power is wielded. During a working lunch, we heard an enlightening talk replete with the language of diplomacy; talk of purviews and silos and Chatham House Rules. As I must observe the latter, I can't share our conversation. Suffice to say, we are very lucky to have Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason as our Deputy Permanent Representative of Ireland to the EU -- diligent, hard-working and articulate, she is deeply committed to our best interests.

In between meetings, it was good to catch up with colleagues. Brendan Storey, who owns the International Books on South Frederick Street, was in upbeat mood, as was Jean Harrington, president of Publishing Ireland, who enthused about the Dublin Book Festival opening on Wednesday.

A walk through a sun-dappled park brought us to the European Parliament, where, after a short tour, we were welcomed by MEPs Sean Kelly and Mairead McGuinness, who imparted the important news that she had just had lunch with Prince Charles, over one of his green initiatives.

After a visit to the directorate-general for research and innovation, where the commissioner is Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, the evening beckoned. Dinner at the European Parliament was understated and elegant: a glass of champagne, goat's cheese on sourdough, lamb steaks and red wine, and rich lemon mousse.

We opened with poetry. Gabriel Fitzmaurice, the engaging teacher and poet from Moyvane, entertained us royally and we were joined, among others, by Ambassador Rory Montgomery, MEPs Gay Mitchell, Marion Harkin and our host Sean Kelly.

After dinner, most of the Irish contingent made a beeline for the nearest pub on the Place du Luxembourg, while some of the wise (working mothers) headed for our soft leabas and dreams of soft lobbying.

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