Anti-counterfeit treaty faces make-or-break vote in July
By Benjamin Fox
MEPs on the European Parliament's international trade committee on Thursday (21 June) voted to reject the controversial anti-counterfeit treaty Acta.
With a majority of 19 to 12 endorsing the recommendation to reject the pact drawn up by centre-left MEP David Martin, the EU's ratification of the treaty looks likely to collapse.
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Attention will now shift to the next Strasbourg plenary session in two weeks' time where the final vote by the full parliament is scheduled to take place on 4 July following a plenary debate the previous day.
Amidst frantic last-minute talks, the centre-right EPP group withdrew two identical amendments calling on the parliament to endorse Acta.
MEPs then rejected an amendment by British Conservative MEP Syed Kamall to suspend judgement until the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ) has delivered its legal opinion, by 19 votes to 12, before backing Martin's recommendation by the same figure.
Speaking at a press conference following the vote, flanked by spokespersons from the Liberal, Greens and far-left GUE group, who also opposed the treaty, Martin admitted that the margin of defeat had been larger than expected.
He said the judgement on Acta's future was "a political not a legal decision" adding that the debate on the treaty had been "a very healthy process for the EP that so many people have been involved in the discussions."
Meanwhile, a press statement released by Martin's Socialist and Democrat group claimed that the treaty was "a step closer to the bin."
Amelia Andersdotter, an MEP for the Swedish Pirate party, which campaigns for unrestricted access to the Internet, described the vote as "an epic moment."
It marks the first time that MEPs have thrown out an international agreement signed by the European Commission.
In an unusual twist, trade commissioner Karel De Gucht, who led the EU's negotiating team on Acta, pleaded with MEPs not to reject the treaty on the eve of the vote.
Appearing before the committee on Wednesday he insisted that Acta did not impinge on data privacy and personal freedom.
Commenting that Acta is "not an attack on our liberties, it is a defence of our livelihoods," he insisted that the treaty would not affect existing legislation, stating that "what is legal today in the European Union, will remain legal tomorrow once Acta is ratified. And what is illegal today will remain illegal tomorrow."
The EPP's spokesman on trade, Daniel Caspary, laid the blame for the defeat at commissioner De Gucht's door, saying that he had failed to take on board concerns made by parliament.
However, he expressed regret at the result, stating that his group, which is the largest in parliament, believed that Acta could have been "the first step" towards effective international rules to combat counterfeiting and intellectual property theft.
Martin also refuted claims by De Gucht that the treaty could still be salvaged if the court approved it, insisting that the treaty could not be brought back as it stands if rejected by MEPs.
He called on the commission to use paragraph 42 of the treaty to renegotiate articles on a range of proposals including a proper definition of commercial agreement, sanctions, and the role of Internet Service Providers.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, the parliament must give its approval before international agreements negotiated by the commission can come into force.
However, most of the negotiations on the treaty were conducted between 2006 and 2010, before Lisbon came into force, meaning that MEPs were denied detailed access to the negotiating papers.
Martin also dismissed the possibility of individual member states ratifying the pact, noting that the EU has exclusive competence over commercial trade policy and could not allow individual ratifications.