EU Liberals To Vote Against ACTA; Conservatives Want To 'Fix' It
from the it's-a-majority,-but-not-as-we-know-it dept
We reported last week that the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament had decided to vote against the ratification of ACTA; now the Liberals and Democrats are following suit:
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament announced today that it cannot support ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement).
The press release picks out the core problems:
"Civil society has been extremely vocal in recent months in raising their legitimate concerns on the ACTA agreement which we share. There are too many provisions lacking clarity and certainty as to the way they would be implemented in practice.
Although that means in theory that a majority of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) would vote against ACTA's ratification, things aren't that simple, as Rick Falkvinge explains:
"Furthermore, ACTA wrongly bundles together too many different types of IPR enforcement under the same umbrella, treating physical goods and digital services in the same way. We believe they should be approached in separate sectoral agreements, and following a comprehensive and democratically debated mandate and impact assessment."
this majority against ACTA is not like other majorities, which are predictable and stable. The European Parliament is fairly unique among parliaments, in that the MEPs are neither required (or indeed expected) to toe the party line, and while the party whip [line] exists, it is mostly of the fun kind. A recommendation, if you like. Deviations from the declared party line is not only common but expected in pretty much every vote. So even though the party groups have declared their party lines, this has no effective binding force on the people doing the actual button-pressing, and it’s the tally of them that counts in the end.
This makes the position of the EPP Group of European Conservatives, the largest block in the European Parliament, critically important. They have just come out with a document entitled: "EPP Group on ACTA: Fix It!", which is still peddling this kind of stuff:
Many of the provisions included in ACTA provide a useful basis to step up the fight against counterfeit products and ensure an adequate protection of consumers and companies alike. This is undisputed.
Hardly undisputed. As the Liberals pointed out in their press release, "the countries that are the main sources of counterfeit goods are not party to the agreement, so its value is questionable": without China as a signatory, ACTA will have no measurable effect on counterfeits in Europe, so the EPP statement is simply wrong.
On the other hand, the EPP does at least seem to understand that ACTA is problematic:
our intensive discussions with citizens and legal experts have shown that we need more legal clarity regarding certain provisions in the agreement in respect of its online chapters.
It's good to see even the EPP accepting that ACTA is flawed in this way. What's less satisfactory is what it proposes to do about it:
It must be ensured not only that ACTA fully respects the EU legal order, especially the Fundamental Rights Charter and the data protection acquis. It is as important that ACTA is not open to any interpretation that would infringe EU law.
We therefore call on the European Commission and member states to ensure legal clarity regarding the following provisions of ACTA, before the EPP Group can support the agreement
Those provisions concern ISPs being asked to police the Internet, and the vague concept of "commercial-scale" infringements. Both are indeed worrying, but so is the idea that the European Commission and member states can somehow "fix" them by providing "legal clarity". The point is, ACTA has been signed; it cannot be changed. Whatever the European Commission and members states say, ACTA will remained flawed and therefore dangerous.
It's pretty clear what's going on here. The EPP is desperately trying to find a way that will allow it to claim that ACTA has been fixed -- as their press release proclaims -- and that MEPs should just forget about all the fuss and meekly agree to its ratification. But ACTA cannot be fixed, since it cannot be amended in any way. So the EPP has come up with this trick of "calling on" the European Commission to promise that everything will be OK when it comes to implementation through EU and national laws.
But no business would sign a flawed contract on the basis of vague promises that its worst clauses won't be implemented: it would tear it up and re-negotiate. So the idea that politicians should adopt this irresponsible approach for a treaty that will impact 500 million people and shape the laws of a continent for many years to come, rather than draw up a new one that does the job properly, is just absurd.