De Gucht in last-ditch attempt to save ACTA

20.06.2012 - 19:07

European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht, has made an eleventh hour attempt to urge the European Parliament not to reject the terms of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreemnt (ACTA).

Appearing before the parliament’s trade committee on 20 June, he urged MEPs not to reject the controversial act, which has been sent to referral to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) at the request of the parliamentarians.

The trade committee is set to vote on ACTA on 21 June, but the main political groups have continued to express opposition to the act. Parliament rapporteur, David martin, from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) said that the European Parliament should reject the act in its entirety, arguing that its terms would force internet service providers into acting “like a police force”. He also says that certain terms of the act, such as the definition of ‘commercial scale’ are not properly defined, and that the sanctions for abuse of copyright are not proportional.

According to martin, ACTA should be “rejected speedily”, and the European Commission should be given time to weight-up the concerns of the parliament.

Taking a slightly different approach, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest group in the parliament, also said that the committee should vote against the act. Unlike the S&D group, the EPP are not against ACTA per se, but wish to delay voting on it until the ECJ delivers its final judgement on the act.

There is also opposition from the Green group and the centre-right European Conservatives and Reformists, whose spokesperson, British Conservative, Syed Kamall said in committee that MEPs should adopt a wait-and-see approach allowing time for the ECJ to deliver its judgement, before all sides can reconsider how progression might be made. As with the EPP, the ECR do not wish to see ACTA dismissed outright.

De Gucht, however, was adamant in his defence of ACTA, arguing that, as a piece of legislation, it was vital to upholding the “rights and freedoms” of European citizens. He rejected suggestions that it would make practices that are legal today suddenly illegal in the future, but, he said, “freedom needs framework”.

He said he was not in favour of “government by the court”, and said that the act was one of the ways that European business could bring itself out of its current economic crisis.

He added that if the trade committee delivered a negative vote, the commission would still be bound to continue on its current legislative path, regardless of MEPs concerns. However, he did suggest that the commission was willing to re-examine certain provisions in the act, such as the definition of ‘commercial scale’ and ‘information-sharing’.

More defiantly, he told MEPs directly to vote for the act, adding that it was his understanding that the ECJ would in any case reject their concerns anyhow.