The Brussels rumour mill is hinting that the Civil Liberties committee of the European Parliament is being asked to write an Opinion on the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). It is understood that a request has gone in to the co-ordinators of the civil liberties committee, who will take the decision at a meeting - held in camera - tomorrow evening.

The Opinion would contribute to the processing of ACTA in the European Parliament, and has

the potential to help the Parliament understand the civil liberties issues which arise out of ACTA. In particular, it would give the Parliament its own internal tool to examine whether or not fundamental rights are infringed.

The European Parliament will have to decide whether or not to give its consent to ACTA. It is questionable whether the European Commission or the Council can sign ACTA until the Parliament's consent is obtained, which is why this is important. See Commission confirms it will not sign ACTA yet.

Although ACTA is not legislation, the matter of consent will follow a similar process to legislation. That process is just beginning.

So far, the Trade committee has been appointed as the lead committee, and the Legal Affairs committee has announced it will write an Opinion, as has the Development committee.

A Civil Liberties committee opinion would focus specifically on the fundamental rights issues, and could give MEPs an opportunity to distill their own conclusions on this very difficult issue.

Pressure is also being put on the Industry committee to contribute an opinion. The industry committee is responsible for telecommunications regulation, and ACTA does contain provisions which will impose liabilities onto ISPs, There is therefore, a strong argument for the Industry committee to also issue an opinion.

There are now a handful of reports which suggest that legal problems exist with ACTA, specifically concerning the EU legal framework , civil liberties and fundamental rights.

In particular, one report that was written proactively by a coalition of academic 'legal eagles', concludes that ACTA will push the envelope of the EU acquis communitaire just a little too far.

Another report, written by a law professor and commissioned by the Green group, concludes that there are risks in ACTA for fundamental rights.

Such reports are typical of barristers' opinions, and hardly make light bedtime reading. On the other hand, they are trying to tell the Parliament about potential pitfalls which an international agreement which - whilst it will not itself become law - will be used to guide European lawmaking and may force changes to the acquis which are not to the benefit of European citizens.

Surely, it is the Parliament's duty to listen?


La Quadrature du Net is asking citizens to write to their MEP and to the two committees.

If you want to know more about the connection between copyright and telecoms legislation, see my book

The Copyright Enforcement Enigma: Internet Politics and the 'Telecoms Package'

Please attribute this article: Monica Horten (2011) ACTA : does the EU need a civil liberties opinion? 16 October 2011.