For the past few months, the European Commission and industry lobbyists have tried to pressure the European Parliament into abdicating responsibility for ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Instead, the Parliament has given the proposal an inordinate amount of attention, with five different committees devoting huge amounts of time and resources to the proposal. Five different committees looked at the proposal from a development, industry, civil liberties, legal and international trade perspective.
One by one, each of the Committees analysed ACTA, with an ever-dwindling degree of support for the proposal. The vast majority of parliamentarians opposed ACTA in the Civil Liberties Committee, while not a single parliamentarian was able to propose an amendment in support of it in the Committee in charge, the International Trade Committee (INTA).
This has been very difficult to digest for a European Commission that has always been able to rely on the Parliament to produce good words before backing down. The reaction from Commissioner De Gucht was, even by the standards of the debate so far, extraordinary. On 20 June, the day before the vote, he went to the Parliament to address the INTA Committee. There, as well as pleading for a “yes” vote for ACTA, he told the democratically elected representatives that their opinion was meaningless. Nothing that they could say or do would prevent his timetable of waiting for a European Court of Justice ruling, followed (almost certainly after the next election) by a re-submission/re-tabling to the European Parliament for another vote. The people can speak, the Parliament can speak, but the Commission will not listen.
Some lobbyists from the content industries were just as ingracious. Having seen the European Parliament devote almost unparalleled resources – five committees over five months of debates, amendments, hearings, workshops, unending meetings with the pro and contra sides of industry, meetings with civil liberties groups, NGOs from the health and development sectors, over 2.8 millions of petition signatures – after all of this they implicitly accused the five separate Parliament committees of failing to consider ACTA responsibly.
The press release of the US-based “International Trade Mark Association” called for “responsible consideration” of ACTA before the plenary vote. The truth is that the Parliament has given an amazing amount of consideration of ACTA – over half of MEPs are members/substitutes on the five committees have rejected ACTA. What the lobbyists wanted, and still want, is not more responsible consideration of ACTA but less – they wanted MEPs to fall for the simplistic “you’re with us or against us” rhetoric that seeks to make politicians believe that anything that has anti-counterfeiting in the title is, by definition, worthy of support. Small wonder that David Martin, the pro-IPR but anti-ACTA parliamentarian in charge of the dossier has spoken publicly of the “aggression” of the IPR lobby.
The attacks from the Commission and from the pro-ACTA industry lobbyists have been noted by MEPs. As EDRi has been saying for some time, ACTA is not ”just” a badly negotiated and dangerous proposal any more, the institutional identity of the European Parliament is on the line – and the Parliament knows it.