23/02/2012 The European Parliament and ACTA

Since its ratification on 26 January, ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) has provoked a lot of protest, from citizens, civil society and the European Parliament. Thousands of protesters have come together in Europe to protest against this threat to freedom on the internet, but also against the lack of transparency that surrounded the negotiations. To be implemented, the text must be signed and ratified by the EU’s 27 member countries and then adopted by European deputies.

Why is ACTA being criticised?

ACTA is an international treaty which looks to ensure greater cooperation in the fight against piracy, and to better monitor networks to fight against piracy.

In addition to infractions of music, film or software copyright on the internet, ACTA also deals with counterfeit medicine and luxury products.
It is the main thing that currently threatens freedom on the internet, and is criticised by numerous opponents. According to article 27.4 of the agreement, the signatories can order an internet provider to rapidly divulge sufficient information to the copyright holder to be able to identify any user that may be illegally downloading. This involves new cooperation commitments with internet access providers. For Euro Deputy Françoise Castex (France, S&D), internet service providers would become a kind of police service monitoring their networks.

According to article 23 of the treaty a signatory country will be authorised to sanction free downloading, because according to ACTA it should not be done for commercial activities. The definition of commercial activity is quite vague and unclear: ‘actions that are deemed commercial include those committed for direct or indirect interests, or for commercial advantage.’

Article 36
is also worrying the public. This article creates an ACTA Committee, and organization of independent governance from international institutions that, according to article 42, would be able to modify the agreement after its ratification, without any national parliament’s agreement.

Opacity in the negotiation process

ACTA negotiations began in June 2008 and continued until October 2010, and the agreement was signed in Tokyo on 26 January last. ACTA will be applied in 22 of the 27 European member states, the US, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, South Korea, Morocco, Mexico and Switzerland.

Among the numerous criticisms of the treaty is the opacity in which it was negotiated. In response to these accusations of a lack of transparency, the European Commission last week published a document detailing the different phases of negotiation of the multilateral agreement. The Commission ‘denies having given preferential access or information to any particular group’ and guarantees that the negotiations took place with the participation of representatives from negotiating countries, and that the European Parliament was duly informed of progress.

According to the document the Parliament received, at different stages of the negotiations, seven different versions of the document, three detailed reports on the negotiations and 14 memos and internal work documents. Meetings and public consultations, that were open to all, were organized in June 2008, April 2009, March 2010 and January 2011. The European Commission also responded to around fifty questions posed by European Deputies on ACTA.

Euro deputies are very dived on the issue and have complained of late access to the document. For deputy Marietje Schaake (Germany, ALDE) ‘The parliaments have been bypassed, and so has the democratic process.’

Thousands of protesters in Europe

An international day of protest was organised on Saturday 11th February. Several thousand people protested against ACTA, some with their faces hidden by a sarcastic Guy Fawkes mask, the British 17th century activist, who has become the emblem of ‘Anonymous.’

Mobilization was greatest in Germany, with about 16,000 protesters in Munich, 10,000 in Berlin, 5,000 in Hamburg, 4,000 in Dortmund and 3,000 in Frankfort or Dresden. In Austria more than 6,000 people marched in the streets of Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck and Linz.

Mobilisation was also very evident in ex-communist countries, especially in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic where more than 3,000 people marched, as well as in Romania. In Paris, at the height of the protest, there were 1,000 marching, according to police.

Strong reaction in the European Parliament

To be implemented, the text must be signed and ratified by the EU and its 27 member states, and then adopted by the European Parliament.
But Germany’s decision on 10 February to suspend the ratification of the treaty was a blow for those that support the treaty. The move was followed by Latvia, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which have all now suspended their ratification of the agreement.

Debate will be tense in the European parliament. In addition to the lack of transparency that surrounded the negotiations of the text, the European Socialist deputies, the Liberals and the Greens say that the text gives too much preference to the copyright holders, to the detriment of the citizens.

‘I do not think that we will move forward with the agreement in its current form’ said the President of the Parliament. For Martin Schulz the treaty is ‘unbalanced’.

Kader Arif, the rapporteur on the text, resigned the day the agreement was signed, 26 January last, so as to send a message to the public. He is happy that there have been protests in Europe, and has said that ‘now the European Right has to face its responsibilities and it needs to acknowledge that this document is inefficient and dangerous to public freedoms.’

‘The better known this document gets, the more enemies is has’ Françoise Castex the French socialist deputy added.
The vote on the agreement should take place between June and September 2012. But before then various rapports, debates and amendments will take place between the five parliamentary commissions.

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