ACTA: the dead donkey that won’t lie down in Europe

The internal operation of the European Union confuses everyone – even its own citizens. It has two primary bodies: the European Commission (EC) and the European Parliament (EP). Only the latter is elected, but only the former has any real power. The EC proposes policy and law; the EP is supposed to vote on those proposals (but the EC can and does ignore those votes).

Before a vote in the EP, a number of special committees is tasked with evaluating specific aspects of EC proposals. Those committees tasked with recommending how the EP should vote on ACTA have now all made their recommendations; and every single one has said that Parliament should reject ACTA. The clear likelihood is that these recommendations will lead to Parliament rejecting ACTA; but it is equally clear that the Commission will not accept this. 

The Commission has already referred ACTA to the European Court of Justice for a ruling on its legality. The Commission expects that any decision from the courts will be in its favor; and it then intends to go back to Parliament irrespective of any intervening vote by Parliament. Two of ACTA’s strongest proponents have been stressing this. Just prior to the final and most important committee vote (by the International Trade Committee), Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht took a belligerent stance

First of all he made it clear that a negative vote in Parliament would not stop his appeal to the Court of Justice - which, he expects, will “find ACTA to be fully in conformity with the Treaties.” Then, he says, he would “consider proposing some clarifications to ACTA.” Lawyers point out that this is meaningless since ‘clarifications’ carry no weight in law, and the treaty itself has been signed and cannot be changed. “Second,” he said, “once we will have identified and discussed these possible clarifications, I would intend to make a second request for consent to the European Parliament.”

ACTA also has supporters within Parliament itself; notably Marielle Gallo, a member of the Legal Affairs Committee (one of the committees that voted to recommend that Parliament should reject ACTA). The European digital rights organization, EDRi, has today published and annotated comments she made to PCinpact. If anything, her position is even more belligerent than that of De Gucht. The gist of her argument appears to be that Parliament is being swayed by misinformation fed to the public. “What are they applauding?” she asks. “That the streets made the law in this dossier?”

To the suggestion that “they appear to be applauding the citizens,” she responds, “Our task is to represent the citizens, but because they are busy with other things, our task is to think for them!” Gallo blames it all on Anonymous. “Listen, you must be aware that Anonymous turned up in the Polish parliamentary assembly. It isn't just a question of misinformation. It is a soft form of terrorism that scares people.” The reality, as EDRi points out, is that, “Anonymous did not descend on the Polish Parliament - parliamentarians wore anonymous masks.”

Asked if she had a plan B for ACTA, she replied, "Me? I have a whole alphabet." The one thing that is very clear from the ACTA proponents is that, in time honored political fashion, the European Commission will continue to ask the European Parliament the same question until it gets the right answer.

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