And will the Parliament become the Commission's poodle? One thing is clear, those who stand to lose the most if Brussels gets it wrong, are European citizens.
The European Parliament will vote tomorrow on a resolution concerning ACTA. It is almost impossible to unravel the politics that is going on as Brussels struggles to decide what to do.
Tomorrow's vote on a resolution is not legislative. Nor is it finally decisive. But it is an important part of the European Parliament's decision-making process, in that it could determine whether or not the Parliament will ultimately be persuaded to accept ACTA.
After a couple of weeks of internal negotiations, in which attempts were made to produce a single, agreed resolution across all party groups including the EPP and ECR groups, there are now two different resolutions on the table. The tworesolutions are quite different, and the choice to be made by the European Parliament is a significant one.
One resolution is a joint agreement between the Socialists, Liberals, Left and Green groups. Missing only are the Independents (which include UKIP) and the non-aligned members.
And the EPP has joined forces with the ECR group which includes the current UK Conservatives who are part of the ruling coalition, to produce the other resolution.
The joint Socialist-Liberal-Green-Left groups essentially call on the Commission to come clean on ACTA, and to clarify the meaning of those elements in the text which stand to do most harm to the Internet. Their concerns include that ACTA goes beyond the EU acquis, and that ‘commercial scale' may be interpreted in a way which would impose criminal liability on EU citizens. Moreover, they are concerned at the possible interpretation of ‘co-operative efforts' and whether or not there are implications for the liability of Internet intermediaries, something which is by no means clear.
The EPP resolution by contrast, is one which ultimately will support those industries which have lobbied for ACTA, and it turns the European Parliament into the Commission's poodle. This is a very weak position indeed, for the post-Lisbon Parliament.
It also creates a real threat to the Internet and to users. The EPP resolution contains language about ‘the fight against piracy' and is clear that its objective is to protect rights-holders not Internet users. The EPP/ECR resolution supports the Commission, irrespective of whether it has conducted itself in a manner worthy of the Guardian of the Treaties. For example, ‘as the Commission has stated' -as if the European Parliament had no role to probe a statement by the Commission and must accept it as truth.
In particular, as noted by La Quadrature du Net , the EPP/ECR resolution puts pressure on Internet Service Providers in order establish extra-judicial copyright enforcement in the digital environment. In this way, it threatens the fundamental freedoms of Internet users.
Such a possibility of an extra-judicial enforcement was debated during the Telecoms Package process, and opposed by the European Parliament. It is therefore incumbent on the European Parliament to support EU law as it has previously voted for.
La Quadrature du Net further highlights how the EPP resolution paves the way for the criminalization of non-commercial infringement of copyright, patent and trademarks, and that it
fails to recognize how ACTA circumvents the competent international organizations like WIPO or WTO.
The FFII, in a letter to MEPs, expressed further concerns that ACTA is out of line with the EU acquis, and highlighted examples.
It is particularly shameful that the ECR has backed the EPP resolution. Its action could reflect the UK Conservatives - part of the ruling coalition government - continuing to doff their cap to big industry, as we saw in the Telecoms Package.
Where the government at home is positioning itself as listening to citizens, its representatives in the European Parliament continue to work against the interests of citizens.
Because EU citizens will be the ones to lose out if ACTA is simply acceded to.
The issue for the European Parliament tomorrow is whether it will stand up for citizens' rights - as it has done previously - or whether it will take the first step to giving away those rights to a shady international so-called agreement.
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2010) Will Internet users be the losers in Europe's ACTA battle?, http://www.iptegrity.com 23 November 2010.