National parliaments challenge Council on software patents
Since the beginning of July, the European Parliament had two weeks to group up fractions and build coalitions. A new pro-EU Centrist and Liberal group has emerged, which will be the third strongest in the European Parliament after the Conservatives and Social Democrats. Due to all the political power game, there was not much time left to discuss digital rights-related issues, even though important decisions were made about the working agenda of the EU institutions for the next months.
The most interesting development was the widespread tendency with national parliaments to make their governments step back from the decision taken on 18 May, adopting the Council Common Position on the patentability of so-called computer-implemented inventions, more accurately known as the the Software Patent Directive. Technically, amendments are still possible to the position taken at that time, because the decision has not yet been translated into all 20 official languages of the EU.
On 1 July, the Dutch Parliament took the so far unique move to make the Minister of Economic Affairs change the five Dutch yes votes into an abstention (see the article below). The withdrawal of these five Dutch votes alone would note change much – it would take 37 no votes or abstentions to block the decision, but only Spain, Austria, Italy and Belgium, totalling 27 votes, have not approved the Common position. But after what seems to have been a tour de force of getting hesitant delegations to agree to the Council’s decision on 18 May, other countries, including Germany (10 votes), Poland (8 votes) and Denmark (3 votes) are reiterating their votes on software patents also.
In Denmark, Parliament members claim their minister, who had shown some reservations before, has been pressed into voting yes. The Polish Representative, Mr Pietras of the Committee for European Integration, wrote he was tricked into voting yes by a bogus claim that amendments made up by Germany had reached a qualified majority even without Poland’s support. His intention, Pietras said, would have been to abstain. The German delegation has also come under pressure from members of the Bundestag, due to these same amendments, which were changed in the last minute, as it seems. merely strategically without any real intention to pass them, and contrary to the government’s intention. If Poland or Germany should change their vote, it would mean the Common Position would have to be re-negotiated in the Council, with the probable result being a more balanced approach, as compared to the present document.
A Common Position before a vote in the EU Parliament is, while by no means a binding document, a very strong incentive for Parliamentarians to vote the same way. It will also be the basis for so-called informal trilogue meetings that will most certainly take place between Council representatives and that Directive’s Rapporteur, Mrs McCarthy (Labour, Britain), in the months of September or October. The Council will then be represented by its present Dutch Presidency.
EU Council of Ministers Scraps Parliament’s Limits on Patentability (18.05.2004)
Europe’s software patent policy under siege (07.07.2004)
Pietras letter on Polish abstention (20.05.2004)
Wikipedia: Qualified Majority Voting
(Contribution by Andreas Dietl, EDRI EU affairs director)