European Parliament Declares Its Independence From The European Commission With A Massive Rejection Of ACTA. Now What?
from the power-to-the-people dept
In a plenary vote today, the European Parliament has rejected ACTA by 478 votes to 39, with 165 abstentions. That followed a failed attempt by the right-of-center EPP Group to call for a postponement. Although the final result was not totally unexpected, since the signs had been pointing this way for a time, it nonetheless represents a huge victory for campaigners who had more or less given up hope of stopping ACTA in Europe even a few months ago. So the question now becomes: what are the ramifications?
In its closing speech, the European Commission repeated its statement that it would wait for the European Court of Justice’s opinion on the compatibility of ACTA with the EU’s laws, even if the vote went against it. It also hinted that it might then call for another vote on ACTA in the European Parliament. Whether that was simply a bluff, or whether it will go ahead with this seemingly pointless exercise, is unclear.
David Martin, the EU parliamentarian charged with handling the ACTA vote, said afterwards in a press conference that he did not believe the Commission could simply re-submit ACTA in its present form. Changing ACTA would require agreement from the other ACTA signatories, which is likely to be hard to obtain, but even then Martin was skeptical that ACTA was the right way to address the problem of counterfeit goods. Moreover, the sheer size of the majority against ACTA today means that the Commission can’t realistically hope that next time things will go much better. Instead, Martin suggested splitting ACTA into two new and quite distinct treaties — one dealing with physical counterfeits, the other with online infringement.
Martin also said that he believed that ACTA is dead, and not only in the European Union. For example, he noted that Australia’s politicians were having second thoughts even before the EU vote. If, in the wake of today’s resounding rejection, Australia also refuses to ratify the treaty, it will leave ACTA looking tattered and hardly the exemplary globe-spanning agreement its supporters have been pushing for. And that’s assuming that the US administration can resolve the issues surrounding its own approval of the treaty, and can muster enough ratifications among other signatories so that ACTA comes into force. And as people are already pointing out, if ACTA does collapse, TPP might be next.
The true measure of the effect of the European Parliament’s rejection of ACTA remains to be seen; but two things are already clear. The first is a new recognition that European citizens not only care deeply about key issues like freedom and privacy, but that they are keen to engage with politicians on these and related subjects, as the President of the European Parliament acknowledged in a statement after the ACTA vote:
The debate on ACTA demonstrated the existence of European public opinion that transcends national borders. All over Europe, people were engaged in protests and debates. The mobilisation of public opinion was unprecedented. As the President of the European Parliament, I am committed to dialogue with citizens and to make Europe more democratic and understandable.
The second point was noted by David Martin in a blog post published shortly after ACTA’s defeat:
This is a historic day in terms of European politics. For the first time the European Parliament has used the powers granted by the Lisbon Treaty to reject an International Trade Agreement. The Commission and the Council will now be aware that they cannot overrun the Parliament, which represents and defends citizens’ rights. This vote represents true democracy in action and the coming of age of the European Parliament.
In other words, the rejection of ACTA by the EU is not just a victory for the activists who took to the streets of Europe earlier this year, and the huge numbers of people who contacted their politicians to express their concern: this is also a victory for the European Parliament, which hitherto has been little more than a rubber stamp for the European Commission’s proposals.
That has important consequences for the future, since it means that the Commission will need to be more circumspect when dealing with the Parliament. That, in its turn, is likely to lead to more transparency and participation by European citizens in the process of crafting new laws and treaties. In particular, it means that whatever the European Commission comes up with as a response to this major defeat over ACTA, it will not be able to assume that it can always get what it wants. Today’s subtle but important shift in power within European politics will also be felt at the international level, since the Commission’s negotiators will no longer be able to conduct meetings behind closed doors that fail to take into account what the European Parliament — and ultimately the people of Europe — are willing to accept.