BRUSSELS: European lawmakers on Friday agreed in principle, perhaps and maybe, to relax the tight reins that currently govern product placement, sponsorship and covert advertising across the continent. Or rather, in best Eurocrat fashion, to refer the issue to another committee.

The European Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee agreed last week that a more liberal approach is necessary and pontificated an amendment to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive aimed at achieving this.

However, lacking the authority to implement this, the IMCPC has referred the matter to the Culture & Education Committee which will in turn deliberate and recommend a loosening of the reins to parliament. Or not, as the case may be.

However, many marketing and media observers see Friday's decision as the first step along a tortuous road to winning the right to insert surreptitious product plugs into TV and print media.

Culture & Education is the lead committee for appraising the directive in question, but the TV product placement proposals are being considered under "intelligent cooperation" - Eurojargon meaning that the opinions of the IMCPC will be reflected in the European Parliament's final position on the subject.

Syed Kamall, a British Conservative Party member of the European Parliament, believes a favourable vote (if and when that happens) will help to promote a more liberal directive and the possible relaxation of product placement rules.

"If we are to compete with the US and the emerging economies, Europe needs to be at the forefront of the new media revolution," says Kamall. "But if we over-regulate the industry, we would fall behind the rest of the world in developing new media services."

He did not explain how a strategically-placed packshot in a TV soap might help to achieve that aim.

Data sourced from BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff