EU commissioner admits defeat over anti-counterfeit treaty
By Benjamin Fox
EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes has admitted defeat on the controversial anti-counterfeit treaty Acta, with her official spokesman telling reporters that the treaty's demise is a "political reality".
Speaking at a conference on internet freedom in Berlin on Friday (4 May), Commissioner Kroes told delegates that "we are now likely to be in a world without SOPA (an anti-piracy bill under discussion in the US Congress) and Acta."
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Kroes also referred to the campaign mounted by internet freedom groups as "a strong political voice", adding that "thousands of people are willing to protest against rules which they see as constraining the openness and innovation of the Internet."
Next week, MEPs in the Petitions committee will discuss the anti-Acta petition launched by campaign group Avaaz which collected over 2.4 million signatures.
Commissioner Kroes is the first member of the EU executive to break ranks in publicly admitting that there is little prospect of Acta being ratified by the EU.
Publicly the EU executive, for whom Trade Commission Karel de Gucht led negotiations on the EU's behalf, has continued to defend the substance of the treaty, and has called on MEPs to delay their vote until after the European Court of Justice releases its legal opinion on Acta.
The Commission referred Acta to the Luxembourg-based court hoping that it would clarify that the treaty does not affect existing EU law or breach the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Kroes' speech comes as the European Parliament is poised to reject Acta. Last week the legislature's International Trade committee began debate on a recommendation by centre-left MEP David Martin to veto the deal, with the final vote in Parliament expected in June or July.
Meanwhile, the Liberal group of MEPs (ALDE) became the latest political group to come out against the treaty.
MEPs are also expected to start work on a report laying out issues ear-marked for re-negotiation. Some MEPs are expected to push for a sector-by-sector approach to anti-piracy measures, while others are seeking to completely re-open the text with a fresh negotiating mandate for the Commission.
However, seeking re-negotiation of Acta would be a major embarrassment for the Commission and would also require the agreement of other countries, including the US, Japan and Australia, who signed up to the treaty.
Six EU member states have already ratified the treaty which will now apply to their national law, causing concern about a fragmented international rule-book on online anti-counterfeit activities.