The European Commission has admitted for the first time that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, will probably be defeated in Europe.
The failure of ACTA to be voted through in the EU is indeed likely, as the leader of the trade committee that has been scrutinising it has advised the European Parliament to reject it in June. Most political groupings in the Parliament, and even the Parliament's president, have also come out against the treaty.
However, the European Commission has always been a staunch defender of the treaty, and digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes's admission on Friday marks a watershed moment in the ongoing ACTA debate.
"We have recently seen how many thousands of people are willing to protest against rules which they see as constraining the openness and innovation of the internet. This is a strong new political voice," Kroes said in a speech at the Re:publica conference in Berlin. "And as a force for openness, I welcome it, even if I do not always agree with everything it says on every subject."
"We are now likely to be in a world without [the stalled US act] SOPA and without ACTA. Now we need to find solutions to make the internet a place of freedom, openness, and innovation fit for all citizens, not just for the techno avant-garde," Kroes continued.
The Commission had previously pleaded with the European Parliament to delay its June vote, as the Commission has referred ACTA to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a legal opinion on its implications. That plea apparently fell on deaf ears.
ACTA is ostensibly aimed at harmonising anti-counterfeiting laws around the world, but many have suggested it would also limit online freedoms and unfairly target individual file-sharers, rather than only dealing with those who infringe on intellectual property on a commercial scale.
Now we need to find solutions to make the internet a place of freedom, openness, and innovation fit for all citizens, not just for the techno avant-garde.– Neelie Kroes
People have also criticised the way in which ACTA was negotiated entirely behind closed doors, with no input from civil society.
The agreement has met with political opposition across much of the EU, and has been the subject of numerous demonstrations by activists.
According to a tweet from a journalist attending the speech, Kroes said the ACTA protests had been "a wake-up call for everyone in Brussels", adding: "Don't worry about ACTA any more!"
While it has been signed by many EU member states and by the European Commission, no-one has ratified it yet — not even the US, which along with Japan initiated the document's negotiations.
ACTA can only come into force in the EU if it is ratified by both the European Parliament and every single member state.
Kroes also alluded to the child protection measures the Commission proposed on Wednesday, which include the use of a new EU-wide electronic ID scheme for proving one's age online.
"Sadly, children will always face risks online: just as they will always face risks, like traffic, in the real world," she said. "Rather we need simple tools, that educate and empower children, and enable them to deal with those risks. Just as we do in the 'offline' world."