ACTA doomed to failure as a fifth EuroParl Committee recommends its rejection - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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ACTA doomed to failure as a fifth EuroParl Committee recommends its rejection

Saturday, 23 June 2012
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international arrangement negotiated in secret since 2008 in a bid to reduce intellectual property theft, looks set to be rejected by the European Parliament as MEPs in a fifth consecutive Committee have voted to recommend its rejection.

Thursday’s vote by the International Trade Committee (INTA) was the most significant yet, and should lead to its final rejection next month in plenary.

Over the past few weeks, four other Committees of MEPs all voted against the adoption of ACTA (ITRE, DEVE, JURI and LIBE) despite impassioned arguments from the treaty’s supporters, including the European Commission and Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

In an attempt to quell MEPs’ fears about it encroaching on individual fundamental rights and freedoms as laid down in the European Treaties, Cmmr De Gucht referred ACTA to the European Court of Justice in February. Prior to Thursday’s vote, he spoke to INTA Committee members and delivered a strongly worded speech in which he revealed if the ECJ ruled ACTA conforms to EU treaties he would make a second request for consent to the European Parliament. (Something to look forward to...)

However, INTA Committee members nonetheless voted 19 to 12 with no abstentions against recommending ACTA and also voted by the same margin not to delay any parliamentary vote until after the ECJ’s ruling, which could take as long as two years.

ACTA aims to protect the intellectual property in both digital and physical goods, and would tighten up the enforcement and definition of copyright theft. However it has proved divisive amongst members of the public and even within some governments because it was negotiated largely in secret and had originally proposed criminal sanctions for those who used the internet to break copyright. At one point rumours were circulating that ACTA could mean personal music players were to be examined at international borders for pirated music. While that scenario is rather farfetched I found the wording in the agreement to be largely ambiguous and open to interpretation.

Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the ALDE group in the European Parliament which includes the UK Liberal Democrats, I believe hit the nail on the head with his statement back in April: "although we unambiguously support the protection of intellectual property rights, we also champion fundamental rights and freedoms. We have serious concerns that ACTA does not strike the right balance. We remain supportive of multilateral efforts to protecting intellectual property rights but ones based on a sectoral approach and a transparent and publicly discussed mandate […] there are too many provisions lacking clarity and certainty as to the way they would be implemented in practice.

The Earl of Dartmouth, the UKIP MEP for the region, is a full member of the INTA Committee and voted against the agreement. As UKIP’s spokesman on International Trade, he previously declared that all UKIP MEPs would vote against ACTA at every opportunity because “UKIP do not want the EU making decisions on behalf of the UK […] we did not support legitimising unelected bureaucrats negotiating matters which will affect Britain, hidden away behind closed doors. Whilst we understand that there needs to be profits made by companies such as those who make video games and for research and development we do not feel this piece of legislation is the answer.

In fact, the UK had already signed up to ACTA, along with 22 other EU countries. But it still requires ratification by the European Parliament as a whole for it to come into force.

While the scenario is not impossible, it is unlikely following five Committee votes to reject, that MEPs will vote to adopt ACTA during its next plenary session in Strasbourg. The matter will be debated on Tuesday 3rd July with the final Parliament vote pencilled for Wednesday 4th July.

Read also: Western Morning News editorial "European Parliament flexes muscles on internet freedom" (25/06)

UPDATE: 04/07, 13.45
The European Parliament today rejected ACTA‬ by a substantial and large majority (478 against, 39 in favour, 146 abstentions). The largest parliamentary group (EPP) tried to delay the final vote until the verdict of the ECJ had been received, but that motion was rejected.

Want to know which MEPs voted in favour and against the Treaty? Here are the results of the rollcall votes in the Parliament today (see p.19-20)

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