A few months ago, we quoted the EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht, who is responsible for handling the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations on the European side, as saying:
"ACTA, one of the nails in my coffin. I'm not going to reopen that discussion. Really, I mean, I am not a masochist. I'm not planning to do that.
Well, either that was just more misdirection, or he's not in control of his staff. Because we learn from a stunning report of a little-publicized meeting between corporate lobbyists and the EU's negotiator on intellectual monopolies, Pedro Velasco Martins, that putting many of the worst features of ACTA into TAFTA/TTIP is precisely what the European Commission has planned.
Here's the background:
If the Commission advances new basic legislation, which I think she should, we will revisit the question, but I'm not going to do this by the back door".
Taking place at the American Chamber of Commerce offices in Brussels, the purpose of the two hour exchange was to strategize between businesses and the Commission in order to make sure that the maximum level of new IP restrictions will be written into the treaty. Present at the meeting were representatives from a range of the very largest multinational corporations. Among these were TimeWarner, Microsoft, Ford, Eli Lilly, AbbVie (pharmaceutical, formerly Abbott) and the luxury conglomerate LMVH. The participant list also included representatives from Nike, Dow, Pfizer, GE, BSA and Disney - among others. Also present
was Patrice Pellegrino from OHIM [Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market], the EU/Commission agency responsible for trade marks in the EU.
As you will notice, most of those companies are from the US. Nothing wrong that, of course, except when you consider the following:
Controversially, the supposedly neutral Commission negotiator and the OHIM representative not only defined themselves as allies with the businesses lobbyists. They went far beyond this and started to instruct the representatives in detail on how they should campaign to "educate" the public in order to maximise their outcome in terms of industry monopoly rights. In particular, concerns from elected representatives, such as the European Parliament -- as well as civil society criticisms about ever increasing intellectual property rights -- were to be kept out of the public debate.
Here's what the European Commission really wants to see in TAFTA/TTIP:
Commission negotiator Velasco Martins revealed the existence of a secret list of corporate demands for new intellectual property rights in the transatlantic treaty. Previously -- towards the public and the Parliament -- the Commission has created the impression that intellectual property rights will be downplayed. The only IP right mentioned has been geographical indications, a minor issue which few are concerned about. In reality, the Commission now revealed that they have received "quite a Christmas list of items" on IP from corporate lobbyists and that they are working to implement this list. The list has already been discussed with the US in several meetings, in person as well as online.
There's also stuff from our old friend ACTA -- stricter enforcement:
The Christmas list covers almost every major intellectual property right. On patents, industry had shown "quite an interest" especially on the procedures around the granting of new patents. On copyrights the industry wants to have the "same level of protection" in the US and EU; in reality this always means harmonization up which results in more restrictions for the general public. On plant variety rights the pharma sector has lobbied for "higher levels" of protection. On trademarks the corporate lobbyists had made classification-related requests to the Commission. Additionally there had been a lot of interest in trade secrets.
According to the negotiator, the most repeated request on the Christmas list was in "enforcement". Concerning this, companies had made requests to "improve and formalize" as well as for the authorities to "make statements". The Commission negotiator said that although joint 'enforcement statements' do not constitute "classical trade agreement language" -- a euphemism for things that do not belong in trade agreements -- the Commission still looks forward to "working in this area".
That seems to go against explicit promises made earlier by the European Commission:
Since the beginning of the TTIP negotiating process, it is very clear that the eventual agreement on intellectual property rights will not include elements that were controversial in the context of ACTA. For example, the ACTA provisions on IPR enforcement in the digital environment (ACTA articles 27.2 to 27.4) will not be part of the negotiations. Neither will ACTA's provisions on criminal sanctions.
The report of the meeting contains many other fascinating insights into the real thinking of the European Commission. For example, apparently there is some relief that people are focusing on the horrors of corporate sovereignty, since that has allowed work on the "corporate Christmas list" to proceed unnoticed. There was also a warning that it is probably only a matter of time before details get out:
"Lots of people are waiting for the first slip, the first leak"
In the wake of the good things that have already flowed from Edward Snowden's leaks, and the enhanced status of whistleblowers today, that seems increasingly likely to happen. Finally, there was a useful hint of how the European Commission is going to attempt to justify bringing back ACTA in TAFTA/TTIP:
A recurring theme was that the public needs to be re-educated to understand the value of industry monopoly rights.
That would presumably be this report, which claims ridiculously that:
According to Pellegrino, the key to doing this is a number of pro-IP reports that will or have been released by OHIM.
One recent report was highlighted. It claims that every fourth job in the EU only exists because of intellectual property regulations.
IPR-intensive industries contribute
Techdirt wrote about this back in October, where we pointed out that it obtains these unrealistically high figures by including a whole range of industries that use things like copyright and patents only in the most limited and tangential way. Expect to see more of these exaggerated claims, based on similarly shoddy methodologies, appearing in the next few months.
26% of employment and
39% of GDP in the EU
That OHIM is putting out such propaganda isn't perhaps too surprising -- it's just a form marketing for its activities. But what is shocking is that an OHIM representative, along with the most senior EU negotiator for intellectual monopolies, should be offering detailed advice to US companies on how to subvert the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations by trying to keep the dissenting views of Members of the European Parliament and EU civic groups out of the debate. That's a direct assault on fair and open discourse, and ultimately undermines European democracy at a time when many are calling into question the entire idea of the European Union.
At the very least, the European Commission should set up a formal inquiry into what happened at this meeting, to make sure such blatant favoritism is avoided in future. If it doesn't, we'll know definitively that not only is it happy to see corporates on both sides of the Atlantic given preferential treatment during TAFTA/TTIP, but that it really doesn't care who knows. Meanwhile, those who took to the streets of Europe to fight off ACTA last year may want to start getting their boots ready.
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