In a February announcement, EU trade chief Karel De Gucht said that following discussion with fellow Commissioners, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) would be referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The treaty, which is aimed at harmonizing global copyright enforcement globally, has largely been formulated behind closed doors and its critics fear it will only lead to censorship and surveillance of Internet users.
The plan was to ask the ECJ to look at ACTA and decide if it conflicts with the EU’s fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression and right to privacy.
Separately, David Martin, a UK MEP who is drafting the Parliament’s position on ACTA, made a proposal to put ACTA before the European Court of Justice to get its opinion, but the committee decided yesterday that wasn’t needed and will now vote in June on whether to approve ACTA.
The European Parliament’s trade committee rejected the plan with 21 MEPs voting against, 5 in favor and 2 abstentions. This means that ACTA could now be put before Parliament in a matter of months. Had ACTA been immediately referred to Europe’s highest court, it would have meant a delay of one, maybe two years.
This, according to activists, would have dampened the momentum of their anti-ACTA work which reached unprecedented levels and Europe-wide protests earlier this year.
“Referring ACTA to the court is no substitute for the political procedure needed to check this agreement and determine democratically whether its entry into force is in the European interest,” said Pirate Party MEP and Shadow rapporteur on ACTA for the GreensAmelia Andersdotter.
“Only a democratic ratification process via the European and national parliaments is able to provide such a judgment, and we therefore welcome today’s decision to continue with this process,” she concluded.
ACTA will now be pushed through committees in the European Parliament during April and May and then to a final full Parliament vote at its June plenary session.
“If ACTA dies in European Parliament, then it’s a permakill, and the monopoly lobbies will have to start fighting uphill,” said Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge in a comment. “If ACTA passes, the same monopolists get tons of new powers to use, and close the door for the foreseeable future behind the legislators for a very necessary reform of the copyright and patent monopolies.”
After its existence was first discovered by the public in 2008 after documents were uploaded to Wikileaks, ACTA’s opponents now have just 10 weeks to pull out the stops.
This article has been updated to clarify the involvement of David Martin MEP