A Vibrant Political Debate on ACTA Sparks at the EU Parliament

Brussels, February 29th, 2012 – The European Parliament may be adopting a strong political line on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), despite the EU Commission's attempt to buy time and defuse the debate. Due to the referral of ACTA to the EU Court of Justice, the final vote paving the way for its ratification will be delayed. This will give the EU Parliament time to build up a clear stance on the issues raised by this dangerous trade agreement, do in-depth research and impact assessments, and hopefully define guidelines for a better and fair copyright regime. Citizens must remain mobilized, as they will have many opportunities to weigh in this open process.

On February 28th, David Martin, the rapporteur for ACTA in the International Trade committee ("INTA") held a press conference marking the beginning of an important "ACTA week" in the European Parliament. Reacting to the Commission's attempt to defuse the political debate by referring ACTA to the EU Court of Justice, he affirmed that the EU Parliament will continue its work towards building a political position on key questions (impact of ACTA on fundamental rights, a free Internet, innovation, supply of generic medicines, etc.). Answers to these questions may lead the European Parliament to reject ACTA, by refusing to give its consent to ratification.

Held a few hours after Mr. Martin's press conference, the meeting of the EU Parliament Industry (ITRE) committee was also encouraging : Along with the ITRE rapporteur on ACTA Amelia Andersdotter, notoriously opposed to ACTA, all the statements by Members of the committee but one were strongly worded against the agreement. Most interventions of ITRE members raised doubt regarding ACTA's legitimacy and usefulness. They also expressed concerns about ACTA's consequences for the freedom to conduct business of online platforms, and the fact that the latter may be forced to police their networks in the name of copyright enforcement, at the expense of their users' freedom of expression and privacy.

The only pro-ACTA voice was that of Daniel Caspary (EPP, DE), who defiantly urged for a "calm debate" on ACTA, in spite of years of secretive circumvention of the democratic process by ACTA negotiators. He said this just as a petition with 2.4M signatures against ACTA was being delivered to the Parliament. According to Caspary1, ACTA is justified to "save jobs, save lives, combat fake auto parts", and would have no impact on the Internet.

Finally, during the ITRE committee meeting, a representative from the EU Commission also desperately tried to defend ACTA, pretending that this agreement was about "improving access to justice"! This will sound odd to the many citizens, NGOs or institutions arguing to the contrary that ACTA's Internet-related provisions will lead to the privatized, extra-judicial repression of copyright infringements2.

Citizens can only hope that the vibrant debate which is now taking place on ACTA will be kept alive in the next months in the European Parliament. The Industry committee and the other committees3 in charge of ACTA will now have time to conduct in-depth analysis and impact assessments on its effects on the Internet, the digital economy, fundamental rights and innovation.

"The Commission's attempt to buy time on ACTA must give way to a vibrant political debate about the noxious influence of a few industries on global policy making. We, as citizens, must use the next months to inform Members of the European Parliament on why such indiscriminate enforcement of copyright harms fundamental rights, and why it is unacceptable. We must define clear and fair rules for a better copyright regime that would preserve our freedoms, enable new cultural practices, and promote access to culture as well as democratic participation", said Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson and co-founder of La Quadrature du Net.

Today, Wednesday February 29th, at 17:00, the INTA committee will have an exchange of views on ACTA, and will most probably set the political course and time-line for the procedure in the upcoming months.