The Socialist and Green groups in the European Parliament vowed to "bury" the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement by the summer, before the European Court of Justice would have the chance to issue a verdict.
ACTA was first announced in late 2007, when the US, the EU, Switzerland and Japan said they would negotiate a new intellectual property enforcement agreement to counter the trade of counterfeit goods across borders.
According to former trade negotiators, EU countries attempted to clinch an agreement under the banner of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), but as members could not agree, like-minded nations formed ACTA.
The 52-page treat was signed by the US signed in October, along with Australia, Canada, Morocco, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan. On 26 January, 22 European countries and the European Commission signed as well (the remaining being Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Estonia and Cyprus).
The Commission supports ACTA and sees benefits for European exporters and creators, ensuring they profit from a level playing field worldwide. The agreement will enter into force after ratification by six signatory states. None has ratified so far. The ratification by the European Parliament of the Commission's signature is also required.
The Parliament's International Trade Committee decided yesterday (27 March) by a strong majority not to refer ACTA to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The European Commission last month referred ACTA to the EU's highest court to seek a ruling on whether ACTA is incompatible with the Union's fundamental rights - such as freedom of expression and information, and protections of personal information and intellectual property.
Pro-ACTA lobbyists said that referring ACTA to the court was a setback since a ruling could take one to two years. But the representatives of the federations protecting copyrights made it plain that they intended to use the time available to explain "what is in and what is not in" the treaty.
"The decision not to ask for legal advice from the Court of Justice is the first sign that this Parliament is ready to reject ACTA," Bernd Lange, the Socialists and Democrats trade spokesman, was quoted as saying.
Lange said the political group would hold a public debate on 12 April and that rapporteur David Martin will present his draft report on 26 April. "After that, we will very soon have the chance to vote it in the plenary. ACTA will probably be buried before the summer," Lange said.
The Green/EFA group also welcomed the chance to speed up the vote. Swedish MEP Amelia Andersdotter (Green/EFA group) said the Commission's referral to the ECJ could not be "a replacement for the political procedure for verifying this agreement and democratically determining whether its entry into force is in the European interest".
"Only a democratic ratification process via the European and national parliaments can provide for this, and we therefore welcome today's decision to continue with this process," she stated.
However, it will be the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament – the leaders of the Parliament and its political groups – to ultimately decide on holding the vote. The positions of the liberal ALDE group and of the centre-right EPP are less clear.
From the outset, the intention of the Parliament has been to vote on the ACTA ratification by the summer. The decision of the Commission to refer ACTA to the ECJ appeared to have opened a window of opportunity for postponing the Parliament's vote, largely expected to be negative. The International Trade Committee vote returned plans to the initial scenario.
According to the ACTA treaty, the agreement can enter into force after ratification by six signatory states. None has ratified so far.