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30th Jul 2016

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EU parliament chief joins anti-Acta camp

European Parliament chief Martin Schulz has spoken out against a new intellectual property regime, amid growing signs it will face problems getting past MEPs.

Speaking on a German TV show - the ARD channel's Report from Berlin - on Sunday (12 February) Schulz said: "The necessary balance between the two - protection of copyright on the one hand and fundamental rights of [Internet] users on the other – is very poorly enshrined in this treaty."

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He added: "I do not think that with the current draft treaty ... progress has been made."

The so-called Acta agreement is to create a new global body outside the UN or the World Trade Organisation to govern the sale of generic medicines and to stamp out counterfeit products and illegal file-sharing on the Internet.

Twenty two EU countries as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US have signed up. But it needs all 27 member states and the European Parliament to sign and ratify the text before the EU gets on board.

Schulz, a German left-winger, took up his post as parliament chief last month and is supposed to act as a neutral spokesman for the whole assembly.

The biggest group of MEPs, the centre-right EPP, backs the deal. But the Greens and Schulz's old group, the centre-left S&D, are spearheading a campaign to renegotiate the text.

Fellow German Socialist Bernd Lange, the S&D's spokesman on international trade, told EUobserver on Friday: "It was a mistake to put counterfeit goods and copyright enforcement in the digital environment together in the same agreement."

Recalling that parliament has in recent times vetoed two other treaties - the so-called Swift pact on counter-terrorism and an EU-Morocco fisheries deal - he warned that the commission should get ready to drop its secretive approach on Acta talks.

"If Acta is rejected, the European Parliament must be involved in new negotiations with the commission to achieve a fair and transparent agreement against counterfeiting," he said.

The Green-Socialist campaign comes amid popular anti-Acta protests, voicing fears it will give governments and Internet providers too much leeway to censor content and invade privacy.

Anti-Acta rallies took place in over 50 cities in Europe over the weekend. Some, as in London, attracted just a few hundred people. But the ones in Munich (15,000), Berlin (10,000) and Prague (2,000) were much bigger.

For her part, EU justice commissioner Vivianne Reding has told this website the treaty "is fine" in terms of existing EU laws on digital freedoms and that it "has been twisted and misunderstood."

Her officials expect the five EU non-signatories - Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands and Slovakia - to rubber-stamp the text after overcoming "procedural" hiccups.

Germany and Slovakia, as well as signatories Poland and the Czech republic, have in recent days put the treaty approval process on hold pending reassessments, however.

"Acta is dead. I am ready to bet it won't get through the European Parliament," Polish S&D deputy Marek Siwiec told Poland's Radio Zet on Sunday.

The parliament's international trade committee will take a first look at the treaty in early March.

EU free movement must be curbed, UK says

British leader Theresa May has said free movement of EU workers to Britain cannot continue as in the past, while visiting Slovakia and Poland on Thursday.

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