EPP isolated as Parliament Liberals join anti-Acta campaign
By Benjamin Fox
Guy Verhofstadt became the latest leading figure to oppose the anti-counterfeit treaty Acta when his Liberal group announced that they could not approve the deal without significant re-negotiation.
At a press conference held on Tuesday (24 April), Verhofstadt, as well as the group's spokespersons on Acta, Niccolo Rinaldi and Sophie In’t Veld, described the treaty's provisions as “contradictory “ and “overly ambitious," calling instead for a sector-by-sector approach to counterfeit goods. In a closing remark, Rinaldi said that for Acta, “the game is over."
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Criticising the European Commission's negotiating role on behalf of the EU, the Alde group insisted that they would be "supportive of multilateral efforts to protect intellectual property rights" provided that these were based on "a transparent and publicly discussed mandate."
The Liberals’ move means that three of the European Parliament’s four largest groups have come out against Acta, with the Socialist and Democrat and Green groups having already signalled their intention to veto the deal. According to research by the London School of Economics, the voting behaviour of the Liberal group invariably tilts the majority.
The parliament’s international trade committee, which yesterday began debate on a report prepared by centre-left MEP David Martin, is expected to come forward with a list of changes to improve Acta, although a full re-negotiation of the treaty is unlikely as it would require the consent of countries including the US, Japan and Australia to re-open the package.
Echoing remarks made earlier this week by Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor, that the treaty contained insufficient protection for civil liberties, Verhofstadt complained about the number of enforcement measures in Acta. Referring to debate on the deal in the US, he added that it was increasingly unlikely that the US Congress would ratify the treaty, commenting that Tom Wilde, chair of the sub-committee on trade in the US Senate, was also extremely critical of the negotiation process.
However, while the bureau of the parliament's international trade committee on Wednesday confirmed a timetable that would see it adopting a position in June before a vote by all MEPs in July, the legal affairs committee postponed a debate and vote on its own report. The legal affairs committee is among five committees which will adopt a consultative opinion, which has been drafted by centre-right MEP Marielle Gallo, a strong supporter of Acta.
Meanwhile, a statement issued by MEPs Christofer Fjellner and Daniel Caspary, on behalf of the EPP, declined to take a definitive position, saying that "many of the provisions in Acta provide a useful basis to step up the fight against counterfeit products and ensure an adequate protection of consumers and companies."
They also conditioned their support for Acta on the commission providing legal clarity that the treaty would not lead to internet service providers (ISPs) policing the internet and would only apply to large-scale breaches of intellectual property rights.
Supporters of Acta have also suggested that rejection by parliament could lead to a "Balkanisation" of internet regulation, with six EU countries having already ratified the treaty, which will be integrated with their national law.