The apparent grace of a Japanese signing ceremony is blasted by the shock resignation of the European Parliament's ACTA rapporteur, Kader Arif .
The EU signed the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) today at a ceremony in the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo. The EU’s signature was penned by His Excellency, Mr. Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Japan. Barely was the ink dry, when there was a shock announcement in the European Parliament, which threatens much wider ramifications for the ACTA political process in Europe. The rapporteur for ACTA, Kader Arif, handed back the dossier. This is something which MEPs just don't do unless they are put under political pressure.
Mr Arif said in a statement that he wanted to send a signal alerting the public to what is going on in the European Parliament over ACTA.
“today, in handing back the report that I have been in charge of, I hope to send a strong signal to alert public opinion to this unacceptable situation. I will not participate in this masquerade. “
However, he did not exactly make clear what is going on in the European Parliament, simply alluding to pressure from the political right. He suggested that certain MEPs wanted to speed ACTA through the Parliament in order to deceive the public.
"As rapporteur on this matter, I was confronted by unprecedented manoeuvres by the right of the Parliament to impose an accelerated timetable with a goal of passing the agreement quickly before public opinion could be alerted,"
Perhaps he is not in a position to say much more. A rapporteurship is a highly esteemed role in the European Parliament. Rapporteurs are expected to be good captains who navigate their report through the choppy waters of the different political views, and arrange compromise positions. They do not usually resign.
Politically it is clear that the role of ACTA rapporteur had become intolerably difficult for him. Reading between the lines, I would suspect he was leaned on from somewhere in the EPP – possibly the copyright supporters in that party group. There is at least one precedent when something a rapporteur came under similar pressure and that was the Data Retention directive.
The signing of ACTA does not mean that it comes into force. It is just the first step. ACTA needs to be ratifed by the EU, and for that to happen, there must be a vote for consent in the European Parliament.
Kader Arif, as rapporteur, held the key role to getting the consent vote which would effectively mean the EU adopting ACTA. That is likely to be why he was under so much pressure.
It remains to be seen what fall-out there will be, and whether Mr Arif throwing in the ACTA towel will have the public impact that he seems to want. What is certain is that his replacement will not have an easier time.
The ACTA was also signed today by 22 Member States which signed individually. They were Britain, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
The EU joins the the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand and Singapore which have already signed.
Here is the full text of Kader Arif’s statement upon his resignation as ACTA rapporteur (translated from the original French by me):
"I denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process which has led to the signature of this agreement: failure to address civil society, lack of transparency since the beginning of the negotiations, successive reports of the signature of the text without any explanation, sweeping aside of the views of the European Parliament expressed in several different resolutions.
As rapporteur on this matter, I was contronted by unprecedented manoeuvres by the right of the Parliament to impose an accelerated timetable with a goal of passing the agreement quickly before public opinion could be alerted, depriving the Parliament of its rights of expression and the tools at its disposal to take account of the legitimate demands of citizens.
However, everyone knows that the ACTA agreement poses problems, that it is a question of its impact on civil liberties, responsibilities that it could impose onto ISPs, the consequences on the manufacture of generic medicines or the little protection that it offers to our geographic indicators.
This agreement could have major consequences on the lives of our citizens, and yet it seems that everything is being done to ensure that the European Parliament will have no voice in this chapter. Thus, today, in handing back the report that I have been in charge of, I hope to send a strong signal to alert public opinion to this unacceptable situation. I will not participate in this masquerade."
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