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23rd Mar 2019

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Commission seeks legal clarification on controversial anti-piracy treaty

  • The Commission is seeking clarification from the EU Court that ACTA does not infringe freedoms enshrined in EU law (Photo: Agnes Lisik)

In the face of mounting public and political pressure, the European Commission on Wednesday asked the Union's highest court to clarify whether the controversial anti-piracy treaty (ACTA) is in line with EU law.

Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who led the EU’s negotiating team on the treaty, said he wants the court to “cut through a fog of uncertainty” by assessing whether ACTA was “incompatible - in any way - with freedom of expression and information or data protection and the right to property in case of intellectual property. “

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But he also reiterated his support for the treaty, saying that it would “protect jobs that are currently lost because counterfeited and pirated goods worth €200 billion are floating around on the world markets.”

He re-asserted that ACTA would not affect Internet freedom - one of the main charges put by critics. “It will not change anything in the European Union, but will matter for the European Union," he said.

Expressing his frustration at the arguments put forward by internet campaigners, De Gucht said that the debate “must be based upon facts and not upon the misinformation or rumours that has dominated social media sites and blogs in recent weeks.”

De Gucht’s announcement was accompanied by a statement from Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding saying that she was “against all attempts to block Internet websites”. But Reding added: “The ACTA agreement does not provide for new rules compared to today's legal situation in Europe”.

The move comes as the commission seeks to reassure public opinion and shore up support for ACTA among MEPs in the European Parliament.

A wave of public protests against the treaty this year has seen five of the 22 EU countries set to sign the treaty announce a halt to their domestic ratification process. In the European Parliament, meanwhile, newly elected President Martin Schultz joined his colleagues in the Socialist and Democrat group in voicing his opposition to the current deal.

Socialist MEP David Martin, in charge of the dossier in the parliament, welcomed the decision saying that the “ruling will be a good guarantee for the impact on fundamental rights”.

Others saw it as a vindication of their opposition to the text. Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht described it as “hopefully a nail in the coffin of this far-reaching and unnecessary agreement.”

Commissioner Reding, who last month released proposals to overhaul the EU’s data protection legislation, emphasised Brussels' commitment to Internet freedom, noting that “copyright protection can never be a justification for eliminating freedom of expression or freedom of information.”

Blocking Internet access was “never an option”, she added.

The referral of ACTA to the court for a legal opinion is not expected to delay parliament's deliberations on the treaty. The trade committee will start it work with a public workshop on 28 February. The draft report is expected to go before plenary in June.

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