La Treizième Étoile: 17/06/12 - 24/06/12 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
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ACTA doomed to failure as a fifth EuroParl Committee recommends its rejection

Saturday, 23 June 2012
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international arrangement negotiated in secret since 2008 in a bid to reduce intellectual property theft, looks set to be rejected by the European Parliament as MEPs in a fifth consecutive Committee have voted to recommend its rejection.

Thursday’s vote by the International Trade Committee (INTA) was the most significant yet, and should lead to its final rejection next month in plenary.

Over the past few weeks, four other Committees of MEPs all voted against the adoption of ACTA (ITRE, DEVE, JURI and LIBE) despite impassioned arguments from the treaty’s supporters, including the European Commission and Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

In an attempt to quell MEPs’ fears about it encroaching on individual fundamental rights and freedoms as laid down in the European Treaties, Cmmr De Gucht referred ACTA to the European Court of Justice in February. Prior to Thursday’s vote, he spoke to INTA Committee members and delivered a strongly worded speech in which he revealed if the ECJ ruled ACTA conforms to EU treaties he would make a second request for consent to the European Parliament. (Something to look forward to...)

However, INTA Committee members nonetheless voted 19 to 12 with no abstentions against recommending ACTA and also voted by the same margin not to delay any parliamentary vote until after the ECJ’s ruling, which could take as long as two years.

ACTA aims to protect the intellectual property in both digital and physical goods, and would tighten up the enforcement and definition of copyright theft. However it has proved divisive amongst members of the public and even within some governments because it was negotiated largely in secret and had originally proposed criminal sanctions for those who used the internet to break copyright. At one point rumours were circulating that ACTA could mean personal music players were to be examined at international borders for pirated music. While that scenario is rather farfetched I found the wording in the agreement to be largely ambiguous and open to interpretation.

Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the ALDE group in the European Parliament which includes the UK Liberal Democrats, I believe hit the nail on the head with his statement back in April: "although we unambiguously support the protection of intellectual property rights, we also champion fundamental rights and freedoms. We have serious concerns that ACTA does not strike the right balance. We remain supportive of multilateral efforts to protecting intellectual property rights but ones based on a sectoral approach and a transparent and publicly discussed mandate […] there are too many provisions lacking clarity and certainty as to the way they would be implemented in practice.

The Earl of Dartmouth, the UKIP MEP for the region, is a full member of the INTA Committee and voted against the agreement. As UKIP’s spokesman on International Trade, he previously declared that all UKIP MEPs would vote against ACTA at every opportunity because “UKIP do not want the EU making decisions on behalf of the UK […] we did not support legitimising unelected bureaucrats negotiating matters which will affect Britain, hidden away behind closed doors. Whilst we understand that there needs to be profits made by companies such as those who make video games and for research and development we do not feel this piece of legislation is the answer.

In fact, the UK had already signed up to ACTA, along with 22 other EU countries. But it still requires ratification by the European Parliament as a whole for it to come into force.

While the scenario is not impossible, it is unlikely following five Committee votes to reject, that MEPs will vote to adopt ACTA during its next plenary session in Strasbourg. The matter will be debated on Tuesday 3rd July with the final Parliament vote pencilled for Wednesday 4th July.

Read also: Western Morning News editorial "European Parliament flexes muscles on internet freedom" (25/06)

UPDATE: 04/07, 13.45
The European Parliament today rejected ACTA‬ by a substantial and large majority (478 against, 39 in favour, 146 abstentions). The largest parliamentary group (EPP) tried to delay the final vote until the verdict of the ECJ had been received, but that motion was rejected.

Want to know which MEPs voted in favour and against the Treaty? Here are the results of the rollcall votes in the Parliament today (see p.19-20)

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UK and Spain must cooperate to manage protected nature sites in Gibraltar waters, says European Environment Commissioner

Sunday, 17 June 2012
The European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik has said both the United Kingdom and Spain must cooperate in their management of EU protected sites around the disputed Rock of Gibraltar.

Mr Potočnik said the two governments should have informed each other about their intentions before designating nature sites in disputed territory and added that both sides had legal obligations to protect the designated site of specific cultural interest (SCI). [UK: UKGIB0002 ‘Southern Waters of Gibraltar' and ESP: ES6120032 ‘Estrecho Oriental’]

Whilst it would appear that neither Spain nor the United Kingdom formally undertook this step for the sites they proposed in the disputed territory, the emphasis now must be on the two Member States to cooperate in finding a practical way forward in managing the sites in order to deliver the requirements of [the directive] on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora, as such designation implies,Mr Potočnik said on behalf of the European Commission.

The Commissioner was responding to a parliamentary question from Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson, who asked the Commission in May about Spain’s failure to notify the UK before filing its designation for a SCI site (E-004503/2012). Britain and Gibraltar are challenging the Spanish designation on the basis that these are British waters and only the UK has jurisdiction. Spain on the other hand says the waters are Spanish.

The Commissioner’s statement – naturally – does not address the issue of sovereignty although it accepted that both Britain and Spain had conservation areas in Gibraltarian waters.

The Gibraltar Chronicle reports that the Gibraltar Government has rejected Mr Potočnik’s statement and has said it would raise the matter further with the European Commission.

The dispute rumbles on.


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