EP committees ring death knell for ACTA in Europe

Three European Parliament committees voted against the Anti-Counterfeiting Treaty Agreement (ACTA) on May 31, only a day after Dutch parliament soundly rejected the treaty.

Dutch MPs not only shot down ACTA on grounds that it was detrimental to online freedoms, the parliament in The Hague also voted to bar the government from signing similar treaties in the future.

“Strict enforcement of intellectual property on the internet is no solution for the ongoing difficulties regarding copyright law and interferes with internet freedom,” Wired magazine quoted MP Kees Verhoeven as saying.

As resounding a ‘no’ as the Dutch parliament delivered, it was the three European Parliament committees that dimmed ACTA’s prospects of becoming European Union law. MEPs must approve all international treaties signed by the EU before they can go into effect.

The civil liberties, industry and legal affairs committees all voted against ACTA ratification, the latter one doing so despite the recommendation by rapporteur Marielle Gallo to support the treaty. The three committees have a secondary role in the process, their recommendations now going to the international trade committee, which will make the final recommendation to European Parliament.

International trade committee rapporteur on ACTA, Briton David Martin, has already called on his fellow MEPs to reject the treaty. The committee is scheduled to hold its vote on June 20-21, with the European Parliament vote expected on July 2.

After 22 EU member states signed ACTA in Tokyo in late January, rallies in dozens of European cities and towns protested against ACTA, which internet freedom groups say opens the door for tight policing of online content. More than 100 000 across Europe have joined concerted anti-ACTA protests on February 11.

The following week, Bulgaria’s government joined three other Eastern European EU members in saying that it would suspend ratification of the treaty. Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said that his party’s MEPs would vote against ratification in European Parliament.

In April, the European Commission, which was involved in the drafting of ACTA, referred the treaty to the European Court of Justice, asking MEPs to defer their vote until the court issued a ruling on whether the treaty breached “European fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression and information or data protection and the right to property including that of intellectual property.”

The European Commission has defended ACTA throughout, saying that it would not require changing EU legislation. Critics countered by saying that ACTA’s extremely vague language could be used by signatory parties to justify the implementation of harsher laws.

EU’s data privacy watchdog, the European Data Protection Supervisor, published in April a second opinion on the subject, saying that ACTA’s provisions threaten privacy and data protection if not properly implemented. At the same time, the treaty did not contain sufficient limitations and safeguards, such as effective judicial protection, due process, the principle of the presumption of innocence, and the right to privacy and data protection, the watchdog said.



Alex Bivol

Alex Bivol is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe.