After a determined campaign by internet activists, David Martin MEP, the rapporteur for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in the European Parliament, announced that ACTA was to be sent to the European Court of Justice for a legal ruling and was “frozen” for the next year or longer, while the court decides.
The move came as a petition against ACTA signed by 2.5 million people was presented to the Parliament - this is more than double the number of signatories required by the European Citizens Initiative.
The European Commission had earlier announced that they would be referring the agreement to the court, but Martin, who faced the issue like a man who had found a comfortable fence and was determined to sit on it, described himself as “the accidental rapporteur”, having replaced Kader Arif MEP, who resigned in protest, saying the ACTA debate was “a masquerade”.
Martin said he had no opinion on if the agreement should be approved or not and warned that he would not be pressed on the matter, but he noted that the lack of transparency in the negotiations had undermined citizen’s confidence. He robustly defended the Parliament’s right to send a request for a review to Europe’s top court, separate from the Commission’s: “We have specific questions we want answered.” However, he added: "We must guarantee a good balance between intellectual property rights, which are the EU's raw material and are fundamental for the European economy, and individual freedoms in the internet age."
Agreement is ‘vague’ and ‘not clear’
Central to this is not the text itself, but the implications of the text, which Martin described as “vague.” The deputy said that parliament would want to know what guidance the Commission would send on implementing the deal. He also said that they would need clarification on a number of areas, including service providers and border control agencies, noting that the obligations and how these would be carried out were “not clear.”
“When the Parliament presents the legislation to the ECJ, it will be able to pose questions citizens want answered,” Christofer Fjellner, the shadow rapporteur for the European People’s Party in Parliament said. “Parliament has the ability to listen to concerns about civil society, and those are what the institution will refer to the ECJ,” he added.
Fjellner, whose EPP group had strongly backed the trade deal until recently, said that they had received a large volume of correspondence from citizens and that 50% of the concerns raised needed thorough investigation to “find clear answers”.
Fjellner highlighted the fact that there is a fine line between monitoring and censorship and moral obligations but the moral obligation doesn’t necessarily need to go in the legislation.
“If I were (and internet-service provider and) made aware of that someone did something illegal on the internet, as an operator I think it would be reasonable to inform the person that it’s come to my knowledge you might be doing something illegal, and I wouldn’t approve,” Fjellner said.
Martin said that he had no interest in using ACTA to criminalise individual consumers, and that it was important to distinguish between producers of content and consumers.
“I have no interest in the teenager sitting in his room downloading music for free. Why should he be criminalised? If there is an illegal site and (the producers) receive judicial complaints they have the responsibility to take action,” he explained.
Here be pirates
Christian Engstrom, the Swedish Pirate Party MEP was pleased by the referral to the courts. He told New Europe: “It is a good thing that the Commission and now the parliament have done this, but the only reason that they have done this is because of public pressure, which proves that it really works. Citizens getting involved and engaged really changes things.” He added that his party and the Green group had been asking for a referral to the ECJ for a year.
“It’s quite right that the parliament should also send its questions to the ECJ. We can expect the commission to ask the minimum questions, ones they hope to get a yes on.” He said that it was also important to see how the agreement would affect those outside the EU who were not covered by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
“We should praise the Parliament,” said Engstrom. “It’s better late than never! It is very important for citizens to keep up the pressure, if that disappears, so could the resolve of the Parliament.”
Noting the Avaaz petition against the agreement, Engstrom said: “If two-and-a-half million signatures don’t mean anything, than we’ve no right to call ourselves a Parliament.”
Rickard Falkvinge, the founder of the Pirate Party said: “I hope ACTA will ultimately be soundly rejected,” but he praised the referral. “What is good is that Parliament is asking the right questions, about how it will be put into practice. The interpretation and results of ACTA are crucial.”
“It’s a tremendous mobilisation. There’s an awakening here. People, if they are not exercising their rights and standing up for them, realize that those rights may go away. Raising two and a half million signatures for fundamental freedom of speech is a fantastic achievement.”
Asked about their campaign, the activist added: “The obvious conclusion is that we are making a difference. To affect policy you need to put a politician’s job on the line. If you’re just staging rallies, sending letters to the editor, as long as politicians don’t feel personally threatened with losing their job, it won’t make a difference.”
Receiving the petition on behalf of the Petitions Committee, Chairwoman Eminia Mazzoni (EPP) said: “Receiving a petition supported by more than two million people places an even bigger responsibility on us to listen to the European people and offer them a place to express their views to the European institutions."
The European Parliament stated that Mazzoni had “received letters from EU citizens and organisations in favour of ACTA in the past few weeks", but only quoted one, from the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers.