European Parliament Rejects Referral Of ACTA To EU High Court

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The Committee of International Trade of the European Parliament today voted against referring the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

After a tumultuous session, INTA Committee Chair Vital Moreira urged a vote that failed with 21 INTA members opting against handing the much-debated dossier over to the Court. On Monday, Liberal Member of Parliament Sophie in’t Veld in the Civil Liberties Committee demanded complete access for the MEPs to all documents from the negotiation process.

The European Parliament will now stick to the original timetable for ACTA with a decisive vote in INTA – the lead committee – expected on 29-30 May, and a decision by the plenary in its June session. Questions about how a potential ‘no’ vote on ACTA by the European Parliament might impact the Commission’s next steps were premature, a spokesman of EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, wrote in answer to a request by Intellectual Property Watch. A DG Trade representative during the Monday LIBE Committee meeting laid out the timetable by the Commission. The Commission intends to send its questions to the ECJ by the end of April.

The delay and potential silencing of the discussion in the European Parliament of the referrals were of concern to NGOs that lobbied MEPs to instead carry on with their work and reject ACTA “independently of the ECJ referral,” as Health Action International, Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières and the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue wrote yesterday. The coalition denounced the Commission’s move as “an attempt to deflect growing protests and avoid ACTA being definitely rejected by national governments and the European Parliament.”

The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure in a letter to the LIBE Committee said that, “To give the Parliament political space, the Court may decide to highlight problematic aspects, without finding a fatal flaw. This would obscure that the EU and the world need robust safeguards that will stand even under pressure.”

Civil liberties group La Quadrature du Net called on users to push MEPs to stick to the process that would allow a quick rejection of the agreement.

During the INTA Committee today EPP member Daniel Caspary not only criticised the lack of text tabled for vote today, but he also recommended to get clarity on how member states want to proceed first. As long as the ones who sat at the negotiation table were unable to sign up to what they themselves had negotiated – and put their signature on in the Council – it was questionable if the Parliament should delve into a several year-long procedure, he said. The ECJ’s decisions take around two years. Caspary recommended inviting the European Council for clarification on the next steps from member states, especially non-signatories. Cyprus was reported by the DG Trade representative to proceed to signing, but Germany is still hesitating.

In the LIBE session on Monday, Liberal MEP Sophie In’t Veld tried to push once more for openness, at least now. In’t Veld in 2008 had filed a complaint because she was not granted access to negotiation documents. The case currently is pending before the European Court of Justice, she said.

Yet In’t Veld said she meanwhile has received minutes from negotiations in which by mistake Commission officers had highlighted graphs instead of blackening them out. It was very revealing to see, she said, what EU negotiators did not want to be seen by the Parliament. In’t Veld said these and other documents from the negotiations should be made fully available and together with the many studies from EU services and commissioned studies should be taken as a base for the decision to be taken on ACTA.

Transparency still is an issue with ACTA for the Parliament and for the public. In a letter published by FFII today, the NGO deplored a decision by the vice president of the European Parliament, Rainer Wieland, to uphold a decision not to release the legal service’s opinion on ACTA. It is “disheartening to see our 500 million people parliament defend secrecy,” FFII wrote.

So even if the Parliament can proceed with their vote on ACTA in summer – and outrun the Commission and their referral to the ECJ – the question remains, will the Parliament really “put ACTA to bed” as Green Party Member Jan Philipp Albrecht wrote, or will it “bury ACTA” as Socialists and Democrats MEP Bernd Lange announced after today’s vote? ACTA-opponents certainly cannot be sure.

Socialists and Democrats will hold a public debate with civil society on 12 April.

Monika Ermert may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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