A forum should be set up to resolve a long-running spat over levies on recording equipment to compensate performers for lost royalties, EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy said on Tuesday.

Big electronics companies such as Philips, Nokia and HP have been pitted against bodies that collect the levy on behalf of artists and authors.

McCreevy, who administers the 10 trillion euro ($15.8 trillion) internal market of the 27-country European Union, sought to remove the "passion" from the debate and called for a new stakeholder forum to thrash out a roadmap.

"It's time the parties speak to each other directly," McCreevy told a hearing organised by the bloc's executive European Commission.

"I have a simple wish, I would like this hearing to be the start of a process through which the main partners can sit down and calmly discuss a number of issues," McCreevy said.

EU lawmakers said the levy raised 400 million euros in 2007 and represented a third of revenues for performers such as orchestral players but less for authors.

It was introduced in the 1960s on blank tapes and has been imposed in many EU states on MP3 players, blank CDs, printers and mobile phones used to make private copies of music.

On a 40 gigabyte MP3 player, it is two euros in Finland, up to 80 euros in Spain but zero in Ireland and Britain.

Electronics companies say the levy is a tax on products that varies enormously from one EU state to another, duplicates other copyright taxes such as digital rights management, and distorts the internal market.

Collecting societies say the cash is a lifeline to many artists and helps fund cultural events.

McCreevy said consensus had to be found as there was no chance of any legislative proposal being currently adopted.

He was forced to back down in 2006 when he first tried to reform the copyright levy system after the French prime minister intervened, saying it would hurt European culture.

Top movie directors such as Bertrand Tavernier of France and Pedro Almodovar of Spain were mobilised to fend off McCreevy and won.

McCreevy said a stakeholder forum could consider stopping traders who do not pay the levy, improving how levies are reimbursed if products are exported to another EU state where the levy is imposed again, and devising broad principles on calculating levies.

McCreevy has said he has no intention of scrapping the levy and found support from industry for a forum on the issue.

Nokia, Apple, Motorola, Philips and Hewlett-Packard as part of industry lobby EICTA, signalled it was no longer calling for the levy to be scrapped.

"We don't want to talk about doing away with levies any more. What we want is a fair and balanced system," EICTA director general Mark MacGann said.

Jacques Toubon, a French member of the European Parliament and former culture minister, said McCreevy's suggestion was "a bit late in the day" and the use of levies for funding cultural events must be safeguarded.

British liberal EU lawmaker Sharon Bowles said there was legal uncertainty for businesses. "Levies are being put on articles that will never be used for private copying," she said.

"The situation today of artists is quite grave and it's not time to take measures that would result in decreasing the amount of revenue received by artists and performers," said Thierry Desurmont, vice president of French collecting society SACEM.