Liberals put last nail in ACTA coffin

ACTA protest Sofia.jpg

The liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament jumped onto the bandwagon to oppose the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) by declaring yesterday (25 April) that they will vote against it, as "too many provisions" were "unclear". In case a plenary vote was held before the summer, a majority of MEPs would therefore reject ACTA.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament announced yesterday at a press conference that they cannot support ACTA. Although the European liberals supported the protection of intellectual property rights, they were concerned that ACTA contravened fundamental rights and freedoms, explained their leader Guy Verhofstadt.

"Civil society has been extremely vocal in recent months in raising their legitimate concerns on the ACTA agreement which we share. There are too many provisions lacking clarity and certainty as to the way they would be implemented in practice," he said.

The liberals also appear to indicate that they want another agreement to be negotiated instead of ACTA, as they believe the present text "wrongly" brings together under the same umbrella physical goods and digital services.

"We believe they should be approached in separate sectoral agreements, and following a comprehensive and democratically debated mandate and impact assessment," Verhofstadt said.

The Parliament's approval is necessary to ratify the international agreement, signed in January by most EU countries (see background).

The EU Commission, 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. But critics of ACTA said that the referral to the court was just an attempt to buy time and allow interested circles to lobby MEPs and national parliamentarians.

The Socialist and Green MEPs have said from the outset that they would "bury ACTA" before summer, pre-empting what the court might say, and push for a vote to be held on 29 May. Although the three groups fall short of a majority, the leftist GUE-NGL is most certainly going to add the needed votes.

Up to now, the position of the liberals has been ambiguous. Recently 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.

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, 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. Ratification by the European Parliament of the Commission's signature is also required.

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