Anti-Counterfeiting Pact Stumbles in European Parliament Ctte Votes

6 June 2012

The controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) hit another roadblock this past week, after four European Parliament (EP) committees voted against the pact. This result, observers note, is likely to further dim the prospects for the deal's overall approval in Parliament.

ACTA is a plurilateral trade pact seeking to strengthen global standards for the enforcement of intellectual property rights in order to combat counterfeiting and piracy. However, the deal's opponents fear that some of the provisions contained in the final text, which go beyond the standards set by the WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), could have a detrimental effect on access to medicines and fundamental freedoms in the digital environment.

During the votes, each committee was asked to decide whether to back a draft opinion on the pact prepared by each committee's respective ACTA rapporteur. These opinions - which are not binding - will next be forwarded to the International Trade Committee (INTA), which is the lead committee on the anti-counterfeiting deal. INTA, in turn, will issue a formal recommendation to the EU Parliament on whether or not to give its consent to the treaty.

ACTA "incompatible" with EU fundamental rights and health, some committees say

The pact was rejected by a wide margin in some committees, with the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) adopting the report of its ACTA rapporteur - Greek Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Dimitrios Droutsas - by 36 votes to one, with 21 abstentions.

The LIBE had been asked to assess the pact's compatibility with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which contains the whole range of civil, political, economic, and social rights of European citizens and residents. The committee's opinion found that ACTA is "incompatible with the rights enshrined in the Charter [of Fundamental Rights]."

"We fully respect the need for artists to be rewarded for their talents and acknowledge the challenges posed by new technologies on this issue," the LIBE said. "However, we must not accept the erosion of basic fundamental rights in Europe, and around the world, for expediency's sake."

For its part, the Committee on Development of the European Parliament also voted almost unanimously in favour of rejecting the pact, citing concerns that ACTA could adversely impact the health of people in developing countries.

Narrow majority against ACTA in legal, industry committees

The voting margin in other committees, however, was much smaller, with the EU Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) asking for the treaty to be rejected with 12 votes in favour, 10 against, and two abstentions.  This decision reversed the draft opinion of JURI's ACTA rapporteur, French MEP Marielle Gallo, who had publicly expressed support for the pact's ratification last April (see Bridges Weekly, 2 May 2012).

Following the vote, Gallo dissociated herself with the committee's decision; a new opinion reflecting the committee's position will now be drafted by Austrian MEP Evelyn Regner.

Meanwhile, the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) backed the position of its ACTA rapporteur - Swedish MEP Amelia Andersdotter - in favour of the pact's rejection, with 31 votes to 25.

In her draft opinion, issued in March,  Andersdotter argued that ACTA would create "a one-size-fits-all instrument" that might struggle to ensure an appropriate balance between "the right to intellectual property and the freedom to conduct business, the right to protection of personal data and the freedom to receive or impart information."

"Intellectual property enforcement cannot entail a sweeping approach; instead, there is a need to assess the different challenges facing different economic sectors and different aspects of intellectual property and develop individual solutions for these sectors," Andersdotter commented after the vote.

Next steps

British MEP David Martin - the leading ACTA rapporteur in the European Parliament, who has also urged the EP not to approve the deal - lauded the outcome of the committee votes. (See Bridges Weekly, 2 May 2012) "The problems these three committees have identified back up my own concerns about ACTA, which I raised in my report to the international trade committee," he said on Thursday, speaking before the Development Committee vote.

"The plenary is now expected to have the final word: I am confident that a large majority of Euro MPs will endorse my proposal and vote against ACTA," Martin concluded.

The INTA is scheduled to vote on a formal recommendation regarding whether or not to approve ACTA on 21 June. The European Parliament is expected to take a final decision on the pact in July.

ICTSD reporting; "ACTA: Piracy treaty dealt critical blows in EU votes," BBC, 31 May 2012.

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