ACTA to see Euro vote in June as delay averted

The European Parliament is back on track to vote on the contentious copyright enforcement treaty by June, after a key committee voted not to join the Commission in referring ACTA to the European Court of Justice

The European Parliament rejection or approval of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is now back on the fast track, after a key committee decided not to delay matters by referring the copyright treaty to Europe's top court.

ACTA protests

A European Parliament committee has decided not to refer ACTA to Europe's top court, paving the way for a vote on the contentious treaty in June. Image credit: Salajean/Shutterstock

The European Commission said in February that it would refer ACTA to the European Court of Justice to assess whether it complied with fundamental EU rights, and days later, the head of the European Parliament's trade committee (INTA) said the Parliament would probably follow suit.

On Tuesday, however, the membership of INTA voted 21 to five, with two abstentions, not to refer the treaty to the court. Instead, it will stick to the original plan of the European Parliament holding a definitive ratification vote in June.

ACTA, which was drawn up behind closed doors at the instigation of the US and Japan, would establish new international standards for the enforcement of copyright. For example, it would ensure that "copyright or related rights piracy on a commercial scale" is a criminal or civil offence. Those in favour of it, such as the European Commission, have argued that it would comply with existing EU laws, but others say it would conflict with free expression rights and criminalise small-scale copyright infringement.

INTA groupings

The various political groupings represented in INTA had differing reasons for voting as they did, the European Parliament said in a statement on Wednesday morning.

The dominant, centre-right European People's Party rejected the referral because the European Commission is already almost certain to make a similar referral, and because taking similar action would mean the European Parliament could not vote on ACTA until the European Court of Justice made its decision in a year or two's time.

The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) are outright opposed to the treaty. After the vote, S&D trade spokesman Bernd Lange said the decision to avoid a second referral was "the first sign that this Parliament is ready to reject ACTA".

The Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA) are similarly hostile to ACTA, as are the European United Left/Nordic Green Left group. That left only the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) voting in favour of the referral.

"Only a democratic ratification process via the European and national parliaments can provide for this, and we therefore welcome today's decision to continue with this process," Amelia Andersdotter, a Pirate Party MEP who sits in the INTA committee, said in a statement. The Pirate Party is part of the Greens/EFA, and the grouping has adopted the Pirates' copyright policies wholesale.

If the Parliament rejects ACTA in the June vote, the treaty will be dead in Europe.

Many European countries, such as Poland and Germany, have already said they are likely to reject ACTA at a national level, but have indicated they will likely follow the Parliament's lead on the matter. As the treaty is a 'mixed agreement', rejection by a single member state would make it invalid across the EU.

Vote welcomed

The result of Tuesday's INTA vote was welcomed by digital rights activists, who are strongly opposed to ACTA and saw the Commission's plan to refer it to the European Court of Justice as a delaying tactic. Activist group La Quadrature du Net said the decision means "the door remains open to a swift rejection of ACTA".

It is promising step, but only the final rejection of ACTA will settle the issue.

– Philippe Aigrain, La Quadrature du Net

"This vote is the first real test for the balance of views in the EU Parliament since the global anti-ACTA citizen movement took off," La Quad co-founder Philippe Aigrain said in a statement. "It demonstrates a growing understanding of ACTA's issues by a wide range of MEPs, and an ability to avoid the procedural traps set up by the EU Commission and some pro-ACTA MEPs. It is a promising step, but only the final rejection of ACTA will settle the issue."

However, David Martin, the MEP who leads INTA and who had called for the Parliament's second referral, denied that the move had been a trap.

"Some thought that my proposal to refer ACTA to the Court of Justice was a political trick to delay the decision," Martin said. "My intention, on the contrary, was to shed some light that would help members of Parliament make their decision. However, MEPs today showed they are ready to vote. I am glad that the calendar is clear now and things will move faster. We need to stop discussing the procedure and start the political debate on the content."

The next step is for Martin to officially present his recommendation on 25-26 April as to whether the Parliament should reject or accept the treaty. INTA will then take a final vote on its opinion on 29-30 May, and the Parliament will vote at its June plenary session.

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