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18th Nov 2018

MEPs demand more transparency on Acta talks

  • MEP powers over international agreements have been stepped up under the Lisbon Treaty (Photo: EUobserver)

MEPs have called on the European Commission to increase transparency around ongoing negotiations for an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), or risk legal action in the European Court of Justice.

The parliamentary resolution, passed by 663 to 13 votes in favour in Strasbourg on Wednesday (10 March), also calls on the commission to refuse to support internet cut-off as a penalty for online copyright infringement.

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In the statement, Euro deputies demanded to be "fully informed at all stages of the negotiations," and asked the commission to "conduct an impact assessment of the implementation of Acta with regard to fundamental rights and data protection."

With talks launched in 2008 and due to be completed this year, Acta supporters say the multilateral agreement is a necessary measure to combat the growing trade in counterfeited goods and piracy.

Critics point to the highly secretive nature of the talks and say participant governments are engaging in what has come to be known as 'policy-laundering' - agreeing to tough laws through the international treaty process that otherwise would prove too politically unpopular to pass in national assemblies.

"This parliament will not sit back silently while the fundamental rights of millions of citizens are being negotiated away behind closed doors," said the vice-president of the European Parliament, Greek centre-left MEP Stavros Lambrinidis.

"We oppose any 'legislation laundering' on an international level of what would be very difficult to get through most national legislatures or the European Parliament," he added.

Public suspicions that civil liberties could be breached by the potentially far-reaching agreement, that aims to enforce international standards for intellectual property rights, have been nurtured by a steady stream of media leaks about the ongoing negotiations.

Last month, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Peter Hustinx, raised fears that the Acta legal framework could result in "large scale monitoring of internet users" and the international imposition of 'three strikes' laws, such as that recently passed in France, which cuts off internet access of people accused of illegal downloading.

Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, trade commissioner Karel de Gucht tried to reassure MEPs by saying he understands their "concerns" and "is doing his best" to remedy them. "Different European countries have different approaches and we want to keep this flexibility," he said of the system of cutting off the connection of internet pirates.

The Belgian politician is keenly aware that under the EU's new rulebook - the Lisbon Treaty - parliament now has to give its approval to the final agreement, adding substantially more weight to the resolution's requests.

Euro deputies made it clear however that they are not against Acta per se. Christian Engstrom, the Swedish Pirate Party MEP, said in his latest blog post that parliament wants the agreement "to be about combating goods counterfeiting (i.e., fake Rolexes and hand bags etc). It should not be about restricting our fundamental civil liberties".

The next round of Acta talks are due to take place next month. The participants are the USA, the EU, Switzerland and Japan, Australia, Canada, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore and United Arab Emirates.

China, the main sources of the world's counterfeit goods, is not involved.

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