- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

PARIS - The European Union is backing calls to put European literature online amid fears that plans by Internet giant Google to create a global virtual library could wipe out Europe’s diverse cultural heritage for future generations, officials said yesterday.

“We have to act,” said Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, at a meeting of culture ministers and 800 artists and intellectuals in Paris.

“That’s why I say ‘yes’ to the initiative of the French president [Jacques Chirac] to launch a European digital library. I say ‘yes’ because Europe must not submit in the face of virulent attacks from others.”

Six EU members — France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain — on Thursday asked the European Union to launch a European digital library after 19 national libraries signed a motion urging action against the plans by the California-based Google.

In December, the University of Michigan and four other top schools and libraries — Harvard and Stanford universities, the New York Public Library and the Bodleian at the University of Oxford — announced they had made a deal with Google to digitize millions of their books and make them freely available online.

The project, which intends to mark a revolution in the information age, is expected to take up to 10 years, with cost estimates ranging from $150 million to $200 million.

Among the historical books held by the participating libraries are a 1687 first edition of Isaac Newton’s “The Principia,” owned by Stanford, and Charles Darwin’s 1871 classic “The Descent of Man” in the Bodleian.

Many in the European cultural world are worried that such a move will favor works written in English and ignore the wealth of literature to be found in other languages.

France’s National Library president, Jean-Noel Jeanneney, has acknowledged that such a project, comprising some 4.5 billion pages of text, would help researchers and give poor nations access to global learning.

However, he said recently: “The real issue is elsewhere. And it is immense. It is confirmation of the risk of a crushing American domination in the definition of how future generations conceive the world.”

In his speech yesterday at the Comedie Francaise, Mr. Juncker stressed that such a project could be realized only if enough funding is made available, and he criticized the European Union’s culture budget as “insignificant.”

“In my country, culture represents more than 1 percent of the general budget,” he said.

“I would like Europe to extricate the budget from its mediocrity, so we don’t just remain with 0.12 percent of the European budget devoted to culture.

“We must put more money at Europe’s disposition. I say ‘yes’ to a bigger European culture budget,” he added, drawing loud, appreciative applause from the assembled European artists and VIPs.

“This insignificant sum ill represents the new cultural ambitions of the new constitution.”

Mr. Chirac already has asked Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and Mr. Jeanneney to study how collections in libraries in France and the rest of Europe could be put on the Internet more widely and more rapidly.

Mr. Juncker, meanwhile, also slipped in an appeal for EU members to vote ‘yes’ on a new European constitution, which will be put to a referendum in France May 29.

He said that largely thanks to France, the new constitution would provide guarantees of cultural diversity and state aid by stipulating that giving aid to boost culture and preserve heritage was compatible with Europe’s internal market.

“Culture is not a commercial product; it’s an attitude to life,” Mr. Juncker said, adding that he would be opposed to a Europe in which states and regions are barred from supporting cultural activities.

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