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It was perfect timing to bury the news: just as everyone else was packing up for their Easter holidays, DG Trade revealed its question for the European Court of Justice on ACTA (the so-called Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement). The question is controversial because it asks about ACTA and fundamental rights. So is the referral itself, which is dubbed by some as a political delaying tactic. The real question therefore is why DG Trade might seek to shun publicity, given that they believed the ECJ referral to be a good thing?

The ECJ referral asks:

"Is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) compatible with the European Treaties, in particular with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union?"

It is a deliberately drafted to be broad in scope, and is probably the only text that the whole Commission could agree on.

DG Trade's efforts have been overshadowed by the formidable Madame Reding, Justice Commissioner, who has made the strongest statement yet seen from the Commission to oppose the blocking of websites.

On the other side of the Commission table it has the foxy Monsieur Barnier, Sarkozy's man in DG Markt, who is pushing for ACTA, web blocking and more Internet-killer measures.

In the middle is the wavering Neelie Kroes in Information Society, who by rights should support the IT industries and oppose ACTA, but who in fact, has no clear position at all.

So Karel De Gucht and DG Trade sit very uncomfortably around the European Commission table.

Now let's not forget that only a couple of months' ago, DG Trade was organising the signing of ACTA, to the quietly sung praises of the rights-holders. Then, after the vilification of the Commission during this winter's citizen protests, it needed to change tack. Since the more liberal wing of the European Parliament had been calling for an ECJ referral since the Spring of last year, DG Trade probably hoped that a referral to the Court of Justice would win it a few Brownie points.

But it was not to be.

In the European Parliament, those who formerly supported a referral to the ECJ, are now demonising it as a delaying tactic. The MEPs who regularly give DG Trade a hard time over ACTA are not going to soften.

As far as the lobbies go, it is clear that no-one supports the referral. The rights-holders definitely do not want it, because, whatever the outcome, it will delay the ratification process, and they will not be able to use ACTA until ratification is setttled. The citizen advocates do not want the referral because they want to take advantage of the negative tide of public opinion to force a rejection by the European Parliament. they are planning another day of protests on June 9th.

What seems rather strange, is that the press release announcing the ECJ referral l tries rather tamely to spin ACTA as 'good for trade.' The release is accompanied by some statistics on customs seizures of fake physical goods at EU borders - totally irrelevant to the civil liberties issues and to the Europe-wide protests, which are mainly concerned with the Internet and freedom of expression.

DG Trade is certainly caught between a rock and a hard place. But trying to hide a press release while everyone is away with the Easter Bunny does seem a bit weak. DG Trade could be losing the plot.

You may re-publish my article under a Creative Commons licence, but you should cite my name and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics - please cite as Monica Horten, ACTA referral: has DG Trade lost the plot? www.iptegrity.com 10 April 2012 . Commercial users - please contact me.


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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor: online safety, technology and human rights. In April 2024, I was appointed as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on online safety and empowerment of content creators and users. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

Iptegrity.com is made available free of charge for non-commercial use. Please link back and attribute Dr Monica Horten.  Contact me to use any of my content for commercial purposes.  

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