from the she-said-what??? dept
Neelie Kroes gave a keynote speech at this year's re:publica conference in Berlin (disclosure: I spoke there too) that brought together many of the themes she has touched on recently -- the open Web, copyright licensing, the potential of open data, and the need to provide enhanced Internet safety for children. Interesting and important as all those are, they pale into insignificance beside the following comment she made:
We have recently seen how many thousands of people are willing to protest against rules which they see as constraining the openness and innovation of the Internet. This is a strong new political voice. And as a force for openness, I welcome it, even if I do not always agree with everything it says on every subject. We are now likely to be in a world without SOPA and without ACTA. Now we need to find solutions to make the Internet a place of freedom, openness, and innovation fit for all citizens, not just for the techno avant-garde.
Coming from one of the most senior members of the European Commission, which is still desperately trying to push ACTA through the European Parliament, that's an extraordinary statement; the question is: what does it really mean?
Some have suggested that this is an attempt to lull ACTA opponents into a false sense of security so as to allow the European Commission to work behind the scenes for ratification. But that seems unlikely: important though the re:publica conference is, such a statement from an EU commissioner there is hardly enough to trick many ACTA opponents into giving up.
Others would like to believe that the European Commission has finally come to its senses and recognized that the opposition to ACTA is too deep and wide to be overcome, and have accepted its inevitable defeat. Again, that is not really credible given the continuing attempts by the European Commission to persuade European politicians to support the referral of ACTA to the European Court of Justice, and to delay the vote in the European Parliament.
What it may indicate is a growing split in the European Commission between the pragmatists like Kroes, who have accepted that ACTA is doomed, even if they are not really very happy with that outcome, and the hardliners led by the commissioner handling the negotiations, Karel De Gucht, who are still fighting a rearguard action.
That fits with what we know about Neelie Kroes. For example, as Techdirt reported, she has come out in favor of copyright reform and against Internet disconnections -- two views that are probably not shared by all her European Commission colleagues. With her latest frank acknowledgement of ACTA's dwindling chances of being ratified, it would seem that, once again, Kroes is in the vanguard of accepting the reality of the digital world, rather than stubbornly fighting it to the bitter end.
Assuming that there is indeed a growing rift within the European Commission, that in itself is significant, because it represents a departure from the earlier position of presenting a unified front. Given that the European Parliament is also divided between the more realistic socialists, liberals and greens on the one hand, and the more recalcitrant conservatives on the other, it looks like a huge fault line is developing right through the European political machine. Against that background, it would seem increasingly unlikely that ACTA will now be ratified by Europe.