EU parliament joins commission on Acta court probe
By Benjamin Fox
The debate on the controversial anti-counterfeit treaty, Acta has moved to the European Parliament, with MEPs set to pose their own questions to the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice.
At the first meeting of the assembly's International Trade committee on Thursday (1 March) - responsible for drafting the parliament's report - MEPs were presented with a petition organised by Internet campaign group Avaaz and signed by 2.4 million people who want to see ratification of Acta halted. Under the terms of the EU treaties, the parliament must give its approval before the treaty can enter into life.
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David Martin, the Socialist group MEP who is rapporteur on the treaty, urged the committee to refer it to European Court of Justice for a legal opinion on questions prepared by parliament.
Last week the European Commission itself bowed to public pressure when trade commissioner Karel De Gucht - who led the EU's negotiating team on Acta - called on the EU court to clarify if existing EU laws on data protection and freedom of expression on the Internet would be compromised by the new regime.
In a statement, Martin said he wanted to "guarantee a good balance between intellectual property rights, which are the EU's raw material and are fundamental for the European economy, and individual freedoms in the Internet age."
Martin also indicated that he wanted to pose questions about the role of border control agencies and in particular, the controversial issue of how and whether Internet service providers would be mandated to enforce the treaty.
"There is no 'three strikes' rule in Acta, but we do not know how Internet service providers will interpret the tasks given to them and if they feel that they have the duty to cut people off from the Internet," he added.
With the commission and signatory member states coming under increasing pressure from Internet campaigners, MEPs from across the political spectrum are taking a cautious approach to Acta.
Swedish Christian Democrat Christopher Fjellner, whose EPP group has been a big supporter of Acta during the five year negotiation process, said that MEPs would scrutinise the deal in detail before endorsing it.
"I've heard from the commission and member states that there will not be a big change in legislation. I will not take your word for it. We need to scrutinise it," he said.
MEPs also attacked the commission's handling of the negotiations and its response to public protests against the treaty.
Latvian centre-right MEP, Inese Valdere commented that "the commission has not done its job," adding: "I fear we don't have much chance of saving Acta."
Responding to the criticism from MEPs, commissioner De Gucht noted: "Our responsibility as politicians is to establish the facts and not follow the crowd."
His views are similar to those expressed earlier this week by Cameron Kerry, Internet advisor to US President Barack Obama. In an interview, Kerry told EUobserver that Acta is a good balance between intellectual property rights and freedom of expression.
Referring to the recent protests against the treaty, he commented that "rhetoric has exceeded the reality."
Six of the 22 EU countries which have signed Acta have recently halted their ratification procedures and are likely to wait for the opinion of the court and the European Parliament before they resume the process.