MEPs get set for death blow to anti-counterfeit pact
By Benjamin Fox
The MEP charged with scrutiny of the little-loved anti-counterfeit 'Acta' treaty has called for a boycott, raising prospects that parliament will kill it in June or July.
David Martin - a British member of the centre-left Socialist group - told a meeting of the trade committee in Brussels on Thursday (12 April) that after months of reflection, he thinks "the hopes [of the pact] do not pay for the fears and my recommendation will be to reject Acta."
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The hearing saw the European Commission and the Danish EU presidency urge MEPs to delay their vote until the European Court of Justice publishes its opinion on the subject.
Parliament must give its approval before international treaties can be adopted. But the rules provide only for a Yes-or-No vote instead of the internal EU process of proposing amendments.
The commission's best hope is that the court opinion improves the political climate.
On 4 April, when it formally asked judges to look at Acta, trade commissioner Karel de Gucht urged EU deputies to "respect" the feelings of "our highest judicial body." He said average people would "benefit from Acta because it will help protect Europe's raw material - innovation and ideas." The commission also cited figures of tens of millions of fake goods entering the EU each year.
But if parliament votes before the summer recess - as currently planned - chances are it will say No despite the spin.
Martin's new statement signals the end of divisions inside the Socialist camp. Most of the other big groups in parliament - the Liberals, Greens and the far-left GUE - are already anti-Acta
The largest faction - the centre-right EPP - has backed it so far. But some national EPP delegations are starting to change their minds in order not to end up on the losing side, while also seeing a chance for the EU assembly to get a big scalp on the world stage.
Many academics and NGOs - in a warning repeated in parliament at a separate hearing on Wednesday - say Acta will lead to governments and corporations blocking free speech on the Internet and supplies of generic drugs to poor countries.
The experts' feelings were echoed in street protests in EU capitals in recent months, prompting several member states to halt ratification.
Social media have also been deluged with anti-Acta campaigns.
New-York-based NGO Avaaz recently collected 2.4 million names in an electronic petition. "The European Commission is on the back foot and hoping the Court of Justice will give Acta the green light by presenting a very narrow legal question that is sure to receive a positive answer ... Sign the urgent petition to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to call on the court to tell the whole truth," its campaign notice said.