A European Parliament Committee rejected the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) yesterday (21 June) despite pro-business lobbying by Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who insisted that Parliament should not decide before the European Court of Justice gives its opinion. A final vote in the full Parliament is expected on 4 July.
The International Trade Committee voted 19-12 to reject ACTA, making it the fourth Parliamentary panel in less than a month to do so.
The vote took place following a strongly worded speech by De Gucht made in Parliament the previous day, in which he said that he expected the court to find that ACTA conforms to EU treaties. If the court does rule in favour of the treaty, the commissioner said he would make a second request for consent to the European Parliament.
It is unclear when the Court would issue its ruling, but such a procedure could well take two years.
“Whether the Parliament will consider it under this legislature or the subsequent one will be for you to decide,” he said.
Parliament divided along traditional political lines
The committee vote marked a clear division among political groups. The Socialists, Liberals, Greens, and the leftist GUE/NGL rejected ACTA, while the centre-right European Peoples Party, the largest group in the European Parliament, together with the conservative European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, argued in favour of waiting for the court decision before holding a vote in plenary.
MEP David Martin (S&D, UK) , who replaced Kaded Arif as Parliament rapporteur on ACTA since the latter joined the new French government, welcomed the outcome.
“I am pleased that the committee has acknowledged the problems I have identified in my report and has followed my recommendation to reject ACTA," he said.
His like-minded colleagues they were expecting heavy pro-ACTA lobbying to continue.
The Liberal ALDE group highlighted that they had played a significant role by rejecting the ACTA agreement, as without them the vote was going to be a close call. Party officials also said the votes held so far were politically significant because the Parliament rejected an agreement already signed by the Commission.
The anti-EU UKIP party of Nigel Farage also voted to reject ACTA.
Five associations of the manufacturing and creative sector – UNI MEI, INTA, BASCAP, ISFE and IFPI – urged MEPs in a statement “to restore balance and honesty to the debate” ahead of the 4 July vote.
“If Parliament should reject ACTA, it will send a negative signal to Europe’s trading partners and to investors around the globe, especially since much of the debate to date has been fuelled by unfounded rumour and misinformation,” the statement said.
S&D spokesperson on international trade, Bernd Lange, stated: "We are ready to start working with all the political groups on better ways to protect copyright and the creativity of EU companies and manufacturers without endangering fundamental rights. However, we first need to close the unfortunate ACTA chapter."
Cristiana Muscardini (EPP, Italy), vice chair of International Trade Committee in the European Parliament, said: "It is regrettable that some political groups (Socialists, Liberals, Greens) have insisted on voting in the International Trade Committee on ACTA without awaiting the opinion of the court as had been proposed by the ECR Group with the assistance of the EPP group. ACTA has its strengths and weaknesses but for the judgment of the European Parliament to be calm and objective it should not only take into account the pressures placed on it by the computer systems and internet sales lobby. We know indeed that many times these sale systems have boosted and facilitated counterfeiting or allowed the use of products banned in some countries."
EPP Group Coordinator Daniel Caspary commented after the vote: "We regret that a majority of the responsible Committee refused to listen to the European Court of Justice's legal assessment, requested by the Commission."
EPP Group Shadow Rapporteur Christofer Fjellner added: "Just voting against ACTA as the majority now recommends to the plenary would solve possible problems ACTA poses but it would not solve the underlying issues which ACTA intended to solve, to counter large-scale infringements of Intellectual Property Rights. The answer is not to vote against ACTA but to call on the Commission and Member States who negotiated the agreement to fix the problematic issues and to get an agreement which achieves the goals without creating new concerns. It would have been sensible to listen to the ECJ Opinion before committing to a final verdict on the agreement."
Niccolo Rinaldi (ALDE, Italy), said: "There are a number of lessons to be drawn from today's vote. First, citizens' voices count. …This vote shows that the European Parliament is responsive to citizens' expectations.
"The second lesson is that all European institutions, including Commission and Council, must explain themselves before public opinion and show transparency in negotiations. The concerns of our citizens should be relayed to our trade partners and not hidden or neglected.
"Finally this vote is a call to the European Commission to move ahead on the issue of the fight against counterfeiting but Liberals and Democrats favour intellectual property rights that can be upheld by more appropriate legal instruments."
Amelia Andersdotter (Green/EFA group, Sweden) stated: "It is now up to plenary session to finish off ACTA. We hope the plenary vote will take place before the summer, so we can finally draw a line under the ACTA saga and end the ratification process."
Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL) said: "Today marks a victory for democracy." He called it an "irony of history that ACTA is now about to provide a moment of victory for democracy, rewarding the voluntary work of many activists from the civil and digital rights movement, who perceived this treaty as a major threat to democratic rights." He denounced ACTA as an "attempt by the few to impose control on the many", and recalled that MEPs are the elected representatives of the citizens of the European Union.
Five associations of the manufacturing and creative sector – UNI MEI, INTA, BASCAP, ISFE and IFPI, regretted the vote.
“The recommendation by the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee that the Parliament should reject ACTA is a disappointment to Europe’s creative, innovative and manufacturing sectors, which employ over 120 million people across Europe and depend on intellectual property to support and grow their businesses.
“More than 130 organisations representing the breadth of European industry have urged the European Parliament to wait for the opinion of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) before taking a final decision on the Treaty.
“A vote to follow the INTA recommendation and to reject ACTA now would be to ignore the voices of industry, unions, employees, the Commission, the Council and Member States. ACTA should be given careful and responsible consideration before a decision that will have significant effects on the EU’s trade relationships and economy,” the organisations said in a statement.
ACTA was proposed in 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 treaty was signed by the US in October 2011, along with Australia, Canada, Morocco, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan. On 26 January 2012, 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.
- 3 July: Debate on ACTA in plenary in Strasbourg;
- 4 July: Vote in plenary.
- Commission: ACTA: Making the right choice. Karel de Gucht, International Trade Commissioner
- S&D group: ACTA: A step closer to rejection
- EPP group: ACTA: EP should listen to the Court of Justice before vote
- ALDE group: ACTA: ALDE rejects a dangerous Treaty for civil liberties
- Green/EFA group: There is hope!
- ACTA facts: Fight counterfeiting and piracy