The MEP in charge of steering the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement through the European Parliament is urging colleagues to reject the treaty.
The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats parliamentary group ACTA rapporteur David Martin intends to do just that, as do the Greens. Malta’s four Labour MEPs also belong to the PASD.
The original rapporteur for ACTA, Socialist MEP Kader Arif, had resigned in protest when the EU and 22 of its members – including Malta – signed ACTA last January, stating that he would not take part in a “masquerade”.
Despite its name, ACTA does not focus solely on counterfeit goods, but on intellectual property rights in general. Its provisions on unauthorised distribution of copyrighted material over the internet have attracted the most controversy, amid fears that they could lead to internet censorship. Concerns have also been raised on the treaty’s possible impact on generic medicines.
The European Commission has tried to allay these fears, with spokesmen insisting that the adoption of ACTA would not affect legitimate internet use nor lead to witch-hunts against individual users who may have downloaded copyrighted material, among other issues.
The Commission also referred ACTA to the European Court of Justice, and has urged the Parliament to refrain from voting until the court determines whether ACTA is compatible with EU law.
MEPs, however, may not wait that long. Mr Martin is set to present his draft report later this month, and the EP may be able to vote on ACTA in a plenary session before the summer starts.
Mr Martin also made his verdict clear during a debate organised by the Socialist group: That ACTA should be rejected, citing fears that the agreement could discourage the supply of generic drugs to developing countries.
The MEP also said that ACTA is based on an obsolete concept of intellectual property. He argued that lawmakers’ approach to intellectual property rights had to be modernised, and that ACTA risked freezing this approach in its current form.
The leader of the socialist group, Hannes Swoboda, then announced that he would call on his group’s MEPs to reject ACTA.
The Green group also opposes ACTA, although the votes of the two groups alone would not be enough to defeat the treaty. The European Popular Party and the Liberals – the first and third largest groups in the EP – are yet to take a position on the matter; if either oppose the treaty, it would be difficult for it to pass.
The EP’s rejection of ACTA would prevent EU members from ratifying it. The treaty could still come into force elsewhere as long as six countries ratify it – none of the 31 signatories have ratified it so far – but the EU’s rejection would make other countries more likely to follow suit.