Wednesday, July 04, 2012

EU Parliament reject ACTA; Commission say NO!

Well I missed watching it live because I forgot that Brussels is an hour ahead of us here in the UK but the EU Parliament has declined the opportunity to postpone their vote on ACTA today. The European People’s Party, as they promised, called for a postponement of the vote. This was rejected by 420 MEPs. 255 voted to postpone and there were 9 abstentions.

The Parliament then decided to reject the ACTA agreement itself (478 votes to 39, with 165 abstentions) based on ACTA rapporteur, David Martin's recommendations.
"on the draft Council decision on the conclusion of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement between the European Union and its Member States, Australia, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Mexican States, the Kingdom of Morocco, New Zealand, the Republic of Singapore, the Swiss Confederation and the United States of America
(12195/2011 – C7-0027/2012 – 2011/0167(NLE))
The European Parliament,
–   having regard to the draft Council decision (12195/2011),
–   having regard to the draft Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement between the European Union and its Member States, Australia, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Mexican States, the Kingdom of Morocco, New Zealand, the Republic of Singapore, the Swiss Confederation and the United States of America (12196/2011),
–   having regard to the request for consent submitted by the Council in accordance with Article 207(4) and Article 218(6), second subparagraph, point (a) (v), of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (C7-0027/2012),
–   having regard to Rules 81 and 90(7) of its Rules of Procedure,
–   having regard to the recommendation of the Committee on International Trade and the opinions of the Committee on Development, the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs(A7-0204/2012),
1.  Declines to consent to conclusion of the agreement;
2.  Instructs its President to notify the Council that the agreement cannot be concluded;
3.  Instructs its President to forward its position to the Council, the Commission and the governments and parliaments of the Member States and of Australia, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Mexican States, the Kingdom of Morocco, New Zealand, the Republic of Singapore, the Swiss Confederation and the United States of America."
The BBC and ZDNet have short reports as do lots of other outlets now, including the Parliament press office.

The voting process itself was remarkable and courtesy of modern technology you can see it for yourself in glorious technicolour via the EU Parliament website. The ACTA discussion starts at 12.51.30 local time but it's worth watching the run up to it if only for the incredible speed at which votes get done on important agricultural issues. The ACTA bit takes only 6 and half minutes in total.  Honestly if you were to blink you'd miss a vote.  Or if you lost concentration you could find yourself voting for one thing thinking it was something else.

On ACTA Christofer Fjellner of the EPP opens proceedings at 12.51.46. To applause in the chamber he asked for a postponement of the ACTA vote since the European Court of Justice was scheduled to consider the agreement.  This was supported by Klaus-Heiner Lehne, again to a spattering of applause, rounding off with the old classic "I don't think that people on the internet should be making up our minds for us." (In fairness to Mr Lehne that was a translation of what he said rather than a precise quote from his native tongue).

The vice president in the chair, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, then asked for any speakers against the motion to postpone the vote.  David Martin indicated his readiness and Mr Vidal-Quadras invited him to speak. Mr Martin, to laughter and applause, in his lilting Scottish brogue, said:
"ACTA has been rejected by 5 parliamentary commitees.  It has been killed off so many times that it now only exists thanks to the EPP life support machine. No emergency surgery, no transplant, no large period of recuperation is going to save ACTA.
It's time to give it its last rites.  Time to allow its friends to mourn and for the rest of us to get on with our lives.  Thank you Mr President."
The vice president then moved to the vote on the motion to postpone. 255 in favour, 420 against, 9 abstentions. He quickly moved then to the substantive vote on ACTA making clear that those who wanted to reject ACTA should vote against it. The vote went 478 to 39 to reject.

There was immediately huge applause in approval of the decision and a demonstration from multiple MEPs, standing up with posters reading "Hello Democracy Goodbye ACTA".

Their revelry brought disapproval from the vice president, who like a teacher reprimanding a naughty child, told them to sit down and put their posters away. There was then a sting in the tail for the celebrating MEPs. Mr Vidal-Quadras said "The agreement has not been accepted by parliament and so I shall give the floor to the Commission.  You have the floor Commissioner."

Maroš Šefčovič, Vice President of the Commission and Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration (bet you didn't know we had one of those!), stood up to make a brief statement.  He referred to what had been said by Commissioner De Gucht earlier in the plenary (ACTA was coming whether they liked it or not) to "underline the importance of ACTA for creativity, innovation and the economic potential inthe EU. How important the agreement is for the external competitiveness of the EU economy." He was, therefore, "informing the honorable members that the Commission will maintain its request to the European Court of Justice for an opinion on whether ACTA is compatible with the treaties and in particular with the Charter of the fundamental rights of the European Union."

He was loudly heckled at this point and the camera cut to David Martin shaking his head. There was also some applause.  He went on to state that they would study the opinion of the Court and discuss it with the other signatories of ACTA and with the EU Parliament and "would then consider further steps to take."

I caught the last few minutes of David Martin's press conference after the vote.  Surprisingly, given the furore surrounding ACTA, it only lasted a little under 17 minutes (possibly because it is a busy news day elsewhere?). Mr Martin emphasised his concerns that ACTA is too vague, open to misinterpretation and could endanger fundamental freedoms. He spoke of the need for a wide ranging debate about the Internet and appropriate methods for rewarding creators whilst protecting fundamental freedoms.  He believes we have spent 20 years dealing with the internet as if it was a physical world which it is not.

To be pedantic, the Net has a very substantive physical layer. However, I absolutely agree with the underlying point that regulators should make an effort to understand the technology they are trying to regulate.

He was asked a question about the other countries that have signed ACTA.  Mr Martin responded that the agreement has 11 signatories.  To come into force it needs 6 of those to ratify.  But his considered view is that ACTA is dead, not just in the EU but elsewhere. He has information to suggest Australia will follow the EU lead and reject ACTA in parliament next week.  It is not clear now if Canada will ratify the agreement and he thinks it will now struggle to get the 6 ratifications it needs.

In a none-too-oblique retort to Commissioners De Gucht and Šefčovič that ACTA was alive and kicking whatever the EU Parliament said, Mr Martin also said that he believed that the agreement could not be put before the Parliament again. There might be some legal or procedural loopholes that he was not aware of but as far as he understood ACTA has now been permanently killed off in the EU.

The post vote explanations, from the few MEPs who were prepared to hang around, of their stance in Parliament covered all the old ground -
  • IP rights have to be respected
  • We need a debate and effective protection for rights holders
  • ACTA was a step too far
  • The EU would now have to look seriously at how to protect IP
  • ACTA disproportionate 
  • 3 strikes disproportionate
  • Criminal sanctions were draconian 
  • Copyright infringement was inappropriately conflated with counterfeiting medicines
  • Undermined privacy, democracy, freedom of speech and human rights
  • Negotiation process lacked transparency
  • Coated in secrecy
  • ISPs would be inappropriately turned into network police
Irish MEP Seán Kelly had apparently asked why India and China were not signed up for ACTA and the response was ACTA was a "coalition of the willing".  More like "a coalition of the innocent" thought Mr Kelly since most of the IP infringement came from China and India in his opinion.

And the final speaker was rather amusing too, if unintentionally. Eija-Riitta Korhola from Finland launched into an angry rant about how we must protect intellectual property, how "we've made ourselves laughable", how MEPs had let themselves be misled on ACTA by false information from the media, that ACTA was fair and the Parliament should have waited for the ECJ decision which would have been evidence based before deciding whether ACTA was a good thing or not. ACTA seems to have been an emotional issue for her.

So where does this all leave us with ACTA?  Well the EU Parliament has now firmly rejected the agreement by a large majority.  The Commission, however, Ian Paisley style, says NO! They're not having tin pot democratic institutions like the EU Parliament getting in the way of them ACTAing (sorry, couldn't help it) in the economic interests of the EU by implementing ACTA, so they're promising it will be back, like the Terminator.

ACTA may be temporarily on ice but I don't share David Martin's confidence that it is dead.  It will return again once the ECJ has considered it and its provisions are likely to re-surface in any case as part of the EU's ongoing discussions on IPR enforcement. But for now those opposed to the agreement can give themselves a pat on the back for winning one significant battle.

Update: IPWatch, KEI and Michael Geist are worth reading.

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