EU parliament committees say No to Acta
By Benjamin Fox
The prospects of the EU ratifying the controversial anti-counterfeit treaty, Acta have been dealt another blow after MEPs on three European Parliament committees voted to reject the deal.
MEPs on the civil liberties, legal affairs and industry committees came out against the treaty, which critics claim threatens internet freedom, although MEPs from the centre-right EPP group voted in favour in the legal affairs body.
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Under the parliament’s rules, committees have the right to issue a non-binding opinion on a file to be considered by the lead committee.
David Martin, the centre-left MEP responsible for parliament's final report in the international trade committee, said that "the problems these three committees have identified back up my own concerns about Acta, which I raised in my report to the international trade committee."
He also expressed confidence that the plenary vote in Strasbourg would throw out the treaty, saying "I am confident that a large majority of Euro-MPs will endorse my proposal and vote against Acta."
The international trade committee is expected to adopt its position on 17 June in advance of a vote by the full parliament in July.
The European Commission is still waiting for the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice to deliver its legal opinion on the treaty, but a parliamentary veto would mean it is dead.
The votes come just days after the commission came under attack from internet campaign groups and the European Data Protection Supervisor over its part in the multi-lateral negotiations on the treaty.
European Digital Rights, a pan-European campaign group on data privacy, accused the EU executive of "comprehensive failure" after internal documents detailing its negotiating strategy were published online by the group on Tuesday (29 May).
The documents include the minutes taken by the commission from the negotiations in Paris, Seoul, Rabat and Guadalajara between 2008 and 2010.
Meanwhile, parliament sources indicated that there are a series of pending court cases by individuals seeking access to documents related to the EU's negotiating stance.
The EDR claims that the EU commission agreed to enforcement of the treaty by Internet service providers, in breach of its own inter-institutional agreement with the EU Council and parliament. They also say it signed up to a series of vague definitions which the commission itself admitted led to other countries asking the EU "to try to make them make sense."
It accused negotiators of a lack of transparency after the minutes from the Seoul negotiations in 2009 revealed that while the US had the right to disclose negotiation documents to "selected stakeholders" the EU had no equivalent mechanism.
The EDR also echoed the view held by many of parliament's Acta critics that the commission was "completely outmanoeuvred by the United States," after failing to secure safeguards on counterfeit medicines and tighter legal definitions, asserting that "this agreement, from beginning to end, was driven by the United States."
It concluded that the commission had "failed consistently to make any positive gains for itself throughout the entire negotiation process."
Meanwhile, Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht hit back at an "unfounded" opinion on Acta by Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor.
In a letter sent to parliament's legal affairs committee on 29 May, De Gucht accused Hustinx of ignoring the "explicit and detailed safeguards" included in the treaty to protect personal privacy and data protection.
He added that "the opinion systematically assumes that where the provisions of Acta leave room for flexibility in their implementation, they will be implemented in the EU."