The European Commission is to refer the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement to Europe's highest court to check that ACTA really does comply with existing EU laws.
ACTA will be referred to the European Court of Justice to check that it complies with existing EU laws. Photo credit: Gwenaël Piaser/Flickr
Trade commissioner Karel De Gucht announced the move on Wednesday, saying he shared protestors' concerns about freedoms and rights. He said the referral to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would cut through the "fog of uncertainty" surrounding the pact.
''I am glad to say that this morning my fellow commissioners have discussed and agreed in general with my proposal to refer the ACTA agreement to the European Court of Justice," De Gucht said in a statement. "We are planning to ask Europe's highest court to assess whether ACTA is incompatible — in any way — with the EU's fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression and information, or data protection and the right to property, in case of intellectual property."
An EU official who declined to be named told ZDNet UK it was Viviane Reding, the justice commissioner, who had pushed for ACTA to be referred to the ECJ. In a separate statement (PDF), Reding said she is "against all attempts to block internet websites".
"Even though the text of the ACTA agreement does not provide for new rules compared to today's legal situation in Europe, I understand that many people are worried about how ACTA would be implemented," she said.
ACTA is an intensely contentious document. Drawn up behind closed doors, the stated purpose of the pact is to harmonise intellectual-property enforcement around the world and cut down on counterfeiting and commercial-scale piracy. Critics say its wording could be used to target individual infringers of copyright and even dampen free speech.
The agreement has drawn massive protests around Europe, and more are planned for this coming Saturday.
"I share people's concern for these fundamental freedoms. I welcome that people have voiced their concerns so actively — especially over the freedom of the internet," De Gucht said. "I also understand that there is uncertainty on what ACTA will really mean for these key issues, at the end of the day."
"So I believe that putting ACTA before the European Court of Justice is a needed step. This debate must be based upon facts and not upon the misinformation or rumour that has dominated social-media sites and blogs in recent weeks," De Gucht continued.
The European Commission has always insisted that it ensured during the ACTA negotiations that the document did not in any way clash with or alter the EU acqui, or shared law. De Gucht repeated this assertion, saying the benefit for Europe was in bringing other parts of the world up to its standards.
De Gucht also urged other EU institutions, including the European Parliament, to refer ACTA to the ECJ as well, to "help support a calm, reasoned, open and democratic discussion".
Due to its status as a 'mixed agreement' in Europe — the pact affects criminal as well as civil law — ACTA must be ratified by both the European Parliament and every member state if it is to come into force anywhere in the EU. The European Parliament was due to vote on it in June, after it goes through the scrutiny of the INTA trade committee.
This debate must be based upon facts and not upon the misinformation or rumour that has dominated social-media sites and blogs in recent weeks.– Karel De Gucht, EU
Eight member states that signed ACTA have already suspended their ratification processes and a further two states that did not sign — Germany and Slovakia — have also put the brakes on any move to do so.
Poland, whose prime minister used to be an ardent fan of ACTA, last week went so far as to urge the European Parliament to reject it.
On Wednesday, Commission officials declined to speculate on how long it might take the ECJ to scrutinise ACTA. They noted that INTA and the European Parliament could still continue with their own debates on the subject while the ECJ case was ongoing.
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