There was a very rare occurrence in the European Parliament this month, writes UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew. A European Commission negotiated agreement was defeated.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was negotiated by the Commission on behalf of member states and was to have been a deal with Australia, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the USA.
The agreement was negotiated in secret until its details were leaked and created an international outcry. The ACTA is fundamentally anti-democratic because it seeks to by-pass elected governments by handing over power to amend the agreement to an unelected EU committee. Its terms are repressive and provide rigid controls over freedom of expression on the internet. It would criminalise legitimate websites by making them liable for user behaviour under ‘aiding and abetting’ provisions in the agreement.
ACTA’s supporters claim that it is required to combat counterfeit drugs, goods and pirated material. However, civil society groups and developing countries were excluded from the talks leading to the preparation of the legislation. Humanitarian and welfare organisations have expressed grave concern over the agreement’s impact on the supply of life-saving drugs in the developing world and civil liberties groups insist that ACTA is a major threat to fundamental liberties and freedom of expression.
The campaign against ACTA included a petition signed by 2.5 million people and MEPs, including myself, were inundated with correspondence, all of which strongly opposed the agreement. I voted against ACTA and it was thrown out by 478 votes to 39 (165 MEPs abstained, including the UK Conservative Members). This is an extremely rare instance of the will of the people being represented in the European Parliament. Sadly, this is not the end of the story as the European Commission is awaiting a ruling from the European Court of Justice on the legality of the agreement, which, if favourable, could presage ACTA being resubmitted.
The Commission is also trying to implement ACTA via the back door by including most of its provisions in an agreement currently being negotiated with Canada. My colleague, EFD Group Leader, Nigel Farage MEP has submitted a written question to the Commission asking it if it will respect the Parliamentary vote and strike all the ACTA provisions from the proposed agreement with Canada. Don’t hold your breath!
It is worth noting that ACTA passed through the so-called scrutiny system at Westminster on 7th September 2011. The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee decided that two documents outlining the final proposals for ACTA should be included with 20 other papers deemed to be ‘not raising sufficient legal or political importance to warrant a substantive report to the House’. In other words, it was nodded through without a vote or a debate by lazy and careless MPs from the traditional political parties.
For further information on Stuart Agnew MEP go to www.stuartagnewmep.co.uk