23. February 2012–
The European Union has ruled that ACTA, the controversial anti-piracy and counterfeiting treaty is to be passed to its highest court for review. Could this spell the beginning of the end for the hotly contested legislation?
In light of recent Europe-wide citizen demonstrations – including an amazing turnout of 10,000 people in Berlin – plus the recent political distancing from key member states including Germany and Poland, has led to the decision to have the European Court of Justice examine the proposed treaty and rule on its legality.
EU trade head Karel De Gucht will lead the process to clarify whether the treaty complied with "the EU's fundamental rights and freedoms such as freedom of expression and information".
ACTA stalling in Europe
ACTA was scheduled to be debated by the European Parliament in June, although this latest news could stall this process even further. Germany, Slovakia, Estonia, Cyprus and the Netherlands have refused to sign due to concerns on freedom of speech while Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Latvia have stated that they would like to reassess their initial support.
The global agreement has also been signed by the USA, Japan and Canada, but EU backing is considered vital for the treaty's aim of introducing consistent global enforcement measures – without it, ACTA would lose its legislative effectiveness.
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"Unprecedented show of global solidarity"
The move has been welcomed by digital rights campaigners. Raegan MacDonald, Policy Analyst for Access stated: “The [European Commission’s] decision to refer ACTA to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is evidence that the concerns raised by European citizens, civil society, prominent academics, and many more, have been heard at the highest levels of the Commission.
"The unprecedented showing of international solidarity against this dangerous and ill-conceived agreement demonstrates that citizens will not stand by while their rights to free speech, privacy and due process are under threat."
ACTA – what happens next?
But while the latest news is a battle-win for ACTA campaigners, the war is far from over. The outcome of the referral will depend on the questions raised by the Court of Justice. MacDonald explains: “Access implores the Commission to appropriately address the Agreement’s implications for fundamental rights... the Commission should carry out a much needed impact assessment to determine the impacts ACTA will have on the rights of citizens and the European economy.”
The referral could also stall the treaty for up to two years, but MacDonald remains confident that this will not play into ACTA supporters hands by diffusing the situation: “The massive opposition to ACTA makes it clear that this movement will not let up.”
Image credit: flickr user Martin Krolikowski and Björn Bechstein