Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement
Commission to seek court opinion within weeks
By Manon Malhère | Wednesday 21 March 2012
The European Commission is expected to apply to the EU Court of Justice within weeks for an opinion on the compatibility of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) with European Union law. The institution’s political intention is to accelerate the process, it told
Europolitics, given the controversy the text has created. The Commission’s legal service, which is consulting the legal experts of the European Parliament and the Council, is expected to finalise the document soon and it will then go to the College of Commissioners for adoption.
The executive announced this initiative, on 22 February, in the wake of numerous protests across the EU against the agreement (considered to restrict freedom of speech on the internet), heated debates in the European Parliament and announcements by certain states that they would hold up the ratification process. The latter included Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Austria, Slovenia and Germany.
“This discussion has to return to the rational sphere,” said Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht recently. That is why the Commission plans to ask the court to rule on the agreement’s compatibility with fundamental rights and to examine the balance between freedom of speech, free access to information and data protection, on the one hand, and intellectual property rights on the other.
This opinion is obviously important since it will determine to a large extent how the issue will evolve. “The Council’s service has told us that it conforms to the treaty but we will wait [for the final decision] and see,” said Denmark’s Minister for Trade and Investment, Pia Olsen Dyhr, on behalf of the Danish Council Presidency, after the Foreign Affairs Council focused on trade issues, on 16 March.
Debate is still heated in Parliament. Rapporteur David Martin (S&D, UK) wishes to recommend that the institution seek the EU court’s opinion on the compatibility of the agreement, in parallel with the Commission, but his own political group is opposed. The Greens also object to that option. “ACTA presents a political dimension that the judges cannot address,” observed French Socialist MEP Françoise Castex. But positions could shift in terms of the questions the Commission submits to the court.
For the time being, it is preferable to focus the debate on substance rather than procedure, shadow rapporteur Christofer Fjellner (EPP, Sweden) told
ACTA, signed by the EU and 22 states on 26 January, is an international treaty aimed at combating counterfeiting and violations of intellectual property law.