EU Parliament Criticises Secrecy of ACTA Negotiations in Landslide Vote
In a 633 to 13 vote, with 16 abstentions, the European Parliament approved on 10 March a non-binding resolution that expresses concern over the European Commission's handling of ongoing negotiations toward a multi-state deal to clamp down on violations of intellectual property rights.
The resolution found fault with the Commission over several negotiating points that have been spelled out in documents leaked by officials involved in the talks toward an ACTA. The document also calls on the Commission and the Council to grant public and parliamentary access to ACTA negotiating texts. The ACTA talks have been shrouded under a veil of secrecy due to "an agreement amongst ACTA parties that the negotiating text can only be made public if all parties agree.
The issue of transparency was a major point of contention for the parliamentarians. The resolution went so far as to indicate that the Parliament reserves the "right to take suitable action, including bringing a case before the European Court of Justice" if the European Parliament were not "immediately and fully informed at all stages of the negotiations."
The document also "deplores" the fact that the parties involved in the talks chose to work outside well-established international bodies, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization and the WTO, which have established frameworks for public information and consultation.
The resolution also emphasised that ACTA should not make it possible for any so-called "three-strikes" measures to be imposed through an ACTA deal.
Such a measure, also known as a "graduated response policy," would allow Internet Service Providers to suspend Internet access to subscribers suspected of conducting a certain number of illegal downloads. In some cases, internet access could be denied without the involvement of any court system.
Karel De Gucht, European Commissioner for Trade, was given the opportunity address the Parliament on the day before the vote. Facing tough questions by lawmakers, De Gucht was forced to defend not only the secrecy of the ACTA negotiations but also to quell the fears of parliamentarians about leaked documents and provisions. De Gucht spoke specifically to several of the Parliament's concerns, including transparency. The trade commissioner contended that it is not unusual for negotiations to be confidential to allow "each party to feel comfortable to make concessions and/or to try options before finally settling for an agreement."
Additionally, De Gucht argued that the Commission is doing its utmost keep Parliament informed. He added, however, that he wished the negotiations could be more transparent but that this would require the approval of the other negotiating parties.
De Gucht adamantly denied allegations of the inclusion of a three strikes policy, stating: "The EU does not support and will not accept that ACTA creates an obligation to disconnect people from the Internet because of illegal downloads." Finally, he reassured Parliament that "there will be no harmonisation or changes to EU legislation through the back door."
One day after the resolution passed in the European Parliament, US President Barack Obama reaffirmed Washington's stance on "moving forward on new agreements, including the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement."
According to leaked reports, the next meeting of ACTA negotiators will occur 12 April to 16 April 2010 in Wellington, New Zealand.