EU Parliament’s draftsman urges ACTA rejection

David Marting MEP.jpg

British MEP David Martin, in charge of steering the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) through the European Parliament, said yesterday (12 April) that he would urge lawmakers to reject the controversial treaty.

Martin (Socialists and Democrats) cited fears that the agreement could discourage generic drug supplies to developing countries, and presents an outdated concept of intellectual property.

“We have to modernise our approach to intellectual property rights. There is a risk that ACTA will freeze it in its current form,” he said.

The Parliament’s approval is necessary to ratify the international agreement (see background).

The move reinforces opposition to ACTA by the Parliament's Socialist and Democrats. Socialist and Green MEPs have said they would “bury ACTA” in the summer.

ACTA’s previous draftsman, French Socialist MEP Kader Arif, had resigned in protest after the European Commission signed the treaty, due to what he called the “sidelining of demands of the European Parliament as expressed in several resolutions”.

Open and online debate

Martin made the announcement following a three-hour debate on ACTA in the European Parliament organised by the Socialist group. The event was streamed to up to 1,300 viewers online and prompted intense activity on Twitter.

The debate pitted opponents and supporters of ACTA featuring questions from actual and online audiences, as well as often very technical arguments on the specific provisions of the treaty.

Adrien van den Hoven of BusinessEurope, which represents the EU’s largest companies in Brussels, said ACTA was necessary to guarantee intellectual property rights in the world. He said this was particularly necessary given Europe’s relative lack of natural resources and dependence of its companies on “intangibles” such as branding and patents for their economic success.

Artists were divided on the value of ACTA. Helienne Lindvall, a Swedish writer and musician, defended the agreement as necessary to allow artists to earn income when their work is used.

Vuk ?osi?, a Slovenian self-styled ‘internet artist’ took an opposing view, jokingly comparing ACTA’s approach to adapting intellectual property laws to the internet age to dinosaurs attempting to outlaw meteors.

The event’s organisers praised the debate as providing the kind of openness that would have helped to legitimise ACTA’s ratification. Critics say the treaty was negotiated by diplomats largely in secret, with insufficient consultation of civil society representatives and elected officials, including MEPs.

Pedro Velasco, an EU official who participated in the ACTA negotiations, defended the Commission’s record, pointing to a series of consultations with the Parliament throughout the negotiating process.

Uncertain majority in Parliament

While Socialist and Green MEPs have already voiced their opposition to ACTA, the overall position of the Parliament is less clear. The legislature has a large centre-right majority made up of conservatives, liberals and eurosceptics.

The European People’s Party (EPP), the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) have yet to stake out positions on ACTA. They together hold a near-majority of 304 MEPs.

But another conference on ACTA, co-organised the previous day by an S&D and a liberal MEP, signalled that the centrists may also vote against ACTA. Dutch Liberal MEP Marietje Schaake and Bulgarian Socialist MEP Ivailo Kalfin hosted a hearing, where a number of organisations condemned the Commission's attempts to buy time in favour of ACTA.

The EU executive, which has referred ACTA to the European Court of Justice, invited the Parliament not to vote until the court rules. Pro-ACTA lobbyists said that referring ACTA to the court was a setback since a decision could take up to two years.

French MEP Joseph Daul, the EPP leader, said in a statement in February: “We will examine ACTA carefully, taking into consideration all concerns over possible restrictions for the internet. We now need a debate based on facts, not fiction.”

However, some of the countries led by centre-right governments have already voiced opposition, including Poland and the Czech Republic.

British MEP Gerard Batten has said the UK Independence Party would vote against ACTA. The party is the largest in the anti-EU Freedom and Democracy Group (EFD), which has 34 MEPs.

Sergei Stanishev, president of the Party of European Socialists (PES), said ACTA needed "to be shelved".

"The attempt to tackle infringement of intellectual property rights on the internet was done in a very short sighted way. This is a serious subject that needs to be dealt with, however ACTA is not the right place, ACTA is not the right tool and this is not the right way to deal with this issue," he said..

Stanishev noted that a recent leaked non-paper from the G8 dealing with Intellectual Property Rights Protection, indicated that high-level decision makers had already conceded that ACTA was "dead". The PES President called on the European Parliament to vote down the agreement at its plenary session in June.

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 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. The ratification by the European Parliament of the Commission’s signature is also required.

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