European print and paper industry unites against ‘digital only’ legislation

The statement said the progressive limitation of the use of paper "creates wide-ranging social and economic risks”
The statement said the progressive limitation of the use of paper "creates wide-ranging social and economic risks”

The European social partners representing companies and workers in the printing and paper sectors have jointly expressed their concerns about the increasing promotion of digital documents and communications as the default option in European legislation.

In recent years, the European Commission’s emphasis on the digital transition in various EU legislations has led to references to the elimination of printed paper products, particularly in the context of industrial products, medical products, and other consumer information.

Intergraf, Cepi, UNI Europa Graphical, FEPE, and IndustriAll Europe have now issued a joint statement to emphasise that while they recognise the importance of digital transition, it is essential to remember that ‘digital by default’ or ‘digital only’ approaches are not neutral.

They argued that print is indispensable for an inclusive digital transition which respects the fundamental rights of access to information for everyone, while print also positively contributes to inclusion and education.

“The promotion of digital technologies to the detriment of printed paper also has significant social effects and can contribute to exclusion, including those who may already face other disadvantages – such as older people, persons with disabilities, people on limited incomes, people experiencing poverty, and the over 34% of people in Europe without basic digital skills – many of whom rely on paper-based information and are numerous across every country in Europe,” the statement said.

“Moreover, various studies have demonstrated that reading in print benefits reading performance. The COST Action E-READ initiative proved decisively (with a meta-study of 54 experiments including more than 170,000 participants) that comprehension is stronger when reading on paper than on a screen.

“It also showed that people are overconfident about their ability to read digitally, leading to more skimming and less concentration.

“The OECD’s [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] latest research on developing literacy skills in a digital world supports this, demonstrating that young people who read more in print enjoy reading more, read more often, and perform better in reading.

“The OECD even found that reading digital texts more frequently had a negative association with reading performance, even when accounting for socioeconomic and gender differences. Such clear findings need to be taken into account when drafting legislation.

“Policymakers should always consider that indiscriminately promoting digital over print is not neutral and may even be actively harmful in some cases. The progressive limitation of the use of paper creates wide-ranging social and economic risks.”

In their statement, the partners also underlined the sustainability and circularity of paper and print, emphasising their role in the European circular economy, i.e. that paper is based on renewable raw materials, manufactured using primarily renewable energy, and has a recycling rate of 71.4%.

They also pointed out that the environmental footprint of digital communications is rarely acknowledged but has a high direct energy consumption, through the use of data centres, servers, and more, and contributes to electronic waste.

Ultimately, the partners believe that the ‘digital first’ approach negatively impacts the print industry, which plays a crucial role in generating growth, employment, democracy, education, and inclusion.

They have called on EU policymakers to consider the following points: EU policymakers should refrain from implementing a ‘digital by default’ or ‘digital only’ approach in European legislation; and print should always be considered at the same time as digital communications.

Also; EU legislation should take into account the ecological and recyclable value of paper products in the context of the current climate change crisis; and EU legislation should take everything relevant into account, including (in particular) circularity, inclusion, and freedom of choice.