Acta on the brink as MEPs prepare for key vote
By Benjamin Fox
The future of controversial anti-counterfeit treaty Acta remains uncertain as MEPs on the European Parliament’s trade committee weigh up whether to approve or reject the deal.
Four European Parliament standing committees have come out against the treaty, but the International Trade committee, is responsible for presenting the assembly’s recommendation.
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It is set to adopt its position on Thursday (21 June). David Martin, the British centre-left MEP tasked with drafting Parliament’s response on Acta, is urging the committee to reject the deal. However parliament sources suggested that the vote could be tighter than previously thought.
Both the centre-right EPP group, which is comfortably the largest party group in Parliament, and the eurosceptic ECR group, are proposing rival amendments to keep Acta alive. A full Parliamentary vote in Strasbourg would then be held in July.
Although Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes appeared to admit defeat on Acta during a speech on internet freedom in Berlin last month, MEPs have come under mounting pressure from the commission and pro-Acta lobby groups over the last month to delay their decision until the European Court of Justice (ECJ) releases its legal opinion on the treaty.
International Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who led the EU’s negotiating team, will speak in favour of Acta before MEPs take their vote. He referred the treaty to the Luxembourg-based Court in March calling for clarification that it does not compromise EU laws on data privacy.
Swedish MEP Christofer Fjellner, the EPP spokesman on Acta in the committee, has proposed an amendment for parliament to ratify the treaty. Justifying his stance, Fjellner insisted that “the ACTA agreement provides a useful basis to (the) fight against counterfeit products and ensures an adequate protection of consumers and companies alike.”
Meanwhile, Syed Kamall, a member of the ECR group, is urging the committee to suspend its decision until after the court has delivered its opinion. Both political groups are said to view a delay as a compromise to avoid a full veto. The parliament’s Liberal and Green groups, along with the Socialists, have stated their intention to reject the deal.
In a move indicating that EU governments are preparing to take out the most controversial elements of the treaty in a bid to pacify MEPs, German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger suggested in a recent interview that Acta could be salvaged by removing the provisions on copyright from the treaty.
Ministers and EU officials are aware that any re-negotiation of Acta would require the consent of existing signatories to the treaty, including the US, Japan and Australia.
However, internet freedom campaigners remain unconvinced that the treaty can or should be saved.
Joe McNamee, director of pan-European digital rights campaign group EDRI, insisted that a “cherry-pick” approach would fail. “[This] wouldn’t solve the problem that the safeguards are almost all sophistry, smoke and mirrors.”
“Either the renegotiation would be so superficial as to fail to solve ACTA’s many problems, or it would involve the same exclusionary approach as the first negotiation”, he told this website.