The European Commission took a stance yesterday (4 April) in favour of a quick adoption of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), against the will of the European Parliament, which plans to reject it in a plenary vote by the summer.
EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, a promoter of ACTA (see background), called on the European Parliament to "respect the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and await its opinion before determining its own position on ACTA".
De Gucht's comments came after the College of Commissioners gave its agreement yesterday (4 April) to file a legal submission to the ECJ asking for its opinion on ACTA's conformity with the EU treaties.
The statement comes in response to noises from the Socialist and Green groups in the European Parliament, which vowed to "bury" ACTA by the summer, before the Court would have a chance to issue a verdict.
"I believe the European Commission has a responsibility to provide our democratically-elected parliamentary representatives and the public at large with the most detailed and accurate information available," De Gucht said.
"Most of the criticism against ACTA expressed by people across Europe focused on the potential harm it could have on our fundamental rights. So, a referral will allow for Europe’s top court to independently clarify the legality of this agreement," he claimed.
The Commission last month referred ACTA to the EU's highest court to seek a ruling on whether the trade agreement is compatible with the Union's fundamental rights – such as freedom of expression and information, and the 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 industries defending a stronger protection of 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 Parliament's Bureau, which brings together the political group leaders, will ultimately decide on whether and when to hold a vote. But while the positions of the Socialists and Greens are clear, the liberal ALDE group and the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) have yet to take a stance.
According to the draft ACTA treaty, the agreement can enter into force after ratification by six signatory states. None has ratified it so far. It is generally agreed that a negative vote in Parliament would "kill" ACTA.
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 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.
- 12 April: Hearing on ACTA organised by the Socialist group in the European Parliament.