Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement
Parliament throws out ACTA
By Manon Malhère | Wednesday 04 July 2012
After months of negotiations, unforeseen developments and uncertainty, the European Parliament has finally, definitively thrown out the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). During a plenary vote, on 4 July in Strasbourg, an overwhelming majority of 478 MEPs voted against the agreement, with only 39 in favour and 165 abstentions.
The result of the vote shows that MEPs have followed the recommendation of British rapporteur David Martin (S&D) that Parliament should not approve ACTA. This line was formally adopted by the S&D group, as well as the Greens-EFA, GUE-NGL and ALDE groups - even if their positions were far from being clear.
In the absence of a formal line from the EPP - due to strong internal disagreements - the group tried to have the vote postponed until the last minute. Swedish shadow rapporteur Christofer Fjellner introduced an oral amendment before the vote was held, in order to “send this report [by Martin] back to the committee”. The report, he said, should be taken seriously, and the opinion of the EU Court of Justice on the conformity of the text with fundamental rights is required. Unsurprisingly, the assembly was not convinced by this amendment (with 420 in favour and 225 against), and many MEPs saw this as an instrumentalisation of the court and a contempt for democracy.
However, the European Commission, which has suffered a serious defeat at the hands of the EP on this matter, is not giving up, saying that this vote will not prevent the procedure before the court.
“European citizens have made their concerns known and have a right to expect answers. We should respect this right,” said the Commissioner in charge of the dossier, Karel De Gucht.
The EU and the 27 member states will therefore not sign up to this international treaty, which establishes for the first time a global framework to fight against infringements of intellectual property law, and has already been signed by Australia, Canada, the Republic of Korea, the US, Japan, Morocco, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and Switzerland. It has also provoked waves of protest across the EU, mainly due to its restrictive nature regarding freedom of expression on the internet.
“A policy cannot be adopted without the support of citizens. ACTA is a tragi-comedy, which is now at its end, and this is a good result for citizens, for freedom on the internet, and for the European institutions,” said Niccolo Rinaldi (ALDE). Meanwhile, French MEP Françoise Castex (S&D), who has been fiercely opposed to the text since the start of negotiations - unlike certain members of her group - said: “ACTA is a useless and dangerous text whose only merit has been to create a pan-European debate and highlight anti-democratic forces”.
In his recommendations, Martin said: “The expected advantages of this international agreement are more than outweighed by the threat it poses to civil liberties”. The protection of intellectual property is necessary for the Union to remain competitive at the global level, but international agreements on this “should clearly define the field of application of an agreement and the level of protection afforded to individual freedoms”. Yet, measures aiming to protect intellectual property rights within the digital environment are problematic (notably the vague definition of the notion of ‘commercial level’). There is also a risk that the circulation of generic medicines could be interrupted.
However, this opinion was not shared by all. “Shame on those who, giving in to anonymous pressure, have portrayed this text as being a threat to freedom, thereby giving credit to the campagin of misinformation on this subject,” said French EPP member Franck Proust, who was openly in favour of the text, unlike other members of his group.
Initially in favour of ACTA, the EPP has subsequently had to consider many objections to the agreement and announcements by certain member states, mostly in the same political vein, that they would block its ratification. Under such pressure, and with strong internal divisions, the group therefore tried to prolong discussions in order to buy time,
Europoliticshas heard several times, since in the current context, voting in favour of the text is no small matter.
“This vote will have damaging consequences for intellectual property, employment and the European economy,” says a communique from the industry, which attempts to convince decision makers of the benefits of the agreement. The document has been signed by significant players, such as the International Trademark Association, the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) and the International Federation of Actors (IFA).
On a wider scale, this vote should push forward the debate on the application of intellectual property rights to the new and relatively unregulated environment of the internet. This debate looks set to be both stormy and passionate.