Poland appears to have beaten a hasty, possibly temporary, retreat over ACTA, as a wave of mass protests forced a U-turn.
Poland may have signed ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement), but will not ratify it for the time being. The Polish government has caved in to the demands of young protesters who marched through the streets of several Polish cities last week, angry that ACTA would result in censorship of the Internet.
The Polish Parliament was due to confirm its acceptance of ACTA – ratification – last week. But according to several news reports, the decision not to do so was confirmed by the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk.
Mr Tusk appears to have admitted that the view of the Internet users were not sufficiently consulted. He is due to have a meeting with representatives of the marchers this coming week.
This is an apparent U-turn in a manic week. On 26 January, the day of the marches, Mr Tusk is on the record as saying he ‘would not give in to blackmail.’
For those who haven’t followed this strange turn of events, there were mass protests in the capital, Warsaw, as well as Cracow, Kielce and other cities across Poland on 26 January. Thousands of people came out in the freezing cold to protest against ACTA, a secretly –negotiated international copyright agreement. One of the largest protests was in Cracow , where a crowd of 30,000 marched noisily through the streets shouting ‘No to ACTA’. Others had tape over their mouth, indicating their view that ACTA would result in Internet censorship. Click link to video - this one was taken by someone on the march, it must be seen to be believed.
The protests have been shaken, if not stirred, by the mysterious hacker group, Anonymous, which attacked Polish government websites on 23 January, a couple of days before the marches. Anonymous has put anti-ACTA videos on YouTube. Many of the protesters wore the medieval Anonymous masks. Polish government websites were taken down by electronic attacks, allegedly carried out by the group.
There was a calmer protest in the Polish Parliament, where a group of elected representatives covered their faces with Anonymous masks.
However, the confusion is what the non-ratification actually means. ACTA was negotiated by the European Commision, and by the Member States. The Commission was only responsible for the civil provisions. The Member States are responsible for the criminal measures.
It would seem therefore, that the European Commission would ratify the entire agreement, with the civil provisions, and that Poland, as a Member State, would individually only ratify the criminal measures.
It is not clear whether there is any way that Poland, or any other member state, could exercise a veto in the Council of Ministers. What is clear is that the European Parliament vote to give consent to ACTA will be critical.
The Polish question is likely to repeat itself in other European countries. There were more protests this week-end in Sweden, where around a thousand people gathered in Stockholm
in sub-zero temperatures ( I’m told is was minus 18 C) and in Slovenia. Swedish government websites were also taken down, allegedly by Anonymous.
Protests are being organised Europe-wide for next Saturday, 11 February.
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