The Anti-Counterfeit Trading Agreement (ACTA) faces almost-certain defeat in Europe as the continent's Parliament heads to a plenary vote on July 4.
But those in favour of the international intellectual property and trade agreement are pressing to postpone the vote on Wednesday, in a bid to obtain further legal opinion on the treaty's potential effects.
A plenary forum held ahead of the final vote showed the true colours of many parliamentarians this week. But not a single member of European Parliament sought ratification of the treaty.
Theoretically, the Parliament has four options to consider at the vote:
- Parliament gives its consent to the treaty. The Council would then make a decision to conclude the agreement but still requires all member states to ratify the agreement for it to come into force.
- Parliament declines to give its consent, forcing the entire continent out of the agreement.
- Parliament does not reply. Legally, there is no deadline for a response.
- Parliament refers ACTA to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). In this case, the vote on Parliament's consent would be postponed until the Court has delivered its opinion.
After five European trade committees all voted against ratification of the treaty, the chances of seeing option one come to fruitiion appear to have diminished.
Instead, pro-ACTA lobbyists — as well as European Commissioner, Karel De Grucht — is pressing for option four, referring consideration of the treaty to the European Court of Justice and effectively delaying the vote for months.
However, many Parliamentarians saw this as a stalling tactic and preferred to explore another approach in the light of public protests.
Though opposition to the treaty appeared to be the majority sentiment at the forum this week, patchy attendance at the plenary mean a vote in favour of a delay is still possible.
The TPP compromise
A delay to European Parliament's decision on ACTA would distance the vote from sensitive deliberations in the US over the equally controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).
It is understood that co-signatories to ACTA — Australia, New Zealand and Singapore — are pressing to align the TPP’s contentious intellectual property chapter in accord with ACTA, as a fall-back position from the US’ more aggressive extension of rights internationally.
The Australia/NZ/Singapore compromise was first raised during May talks held in Dallas.
Such a compromise would also improve the chances of TPP's otherwise dubious intellectual property proposals surviving at least another round of negotiations.
But an outright rejection of ACTA by the European Union this week could make the position on TPP tenuous.
Australia’s position is already compromised somewhat by a recent committee report urging delays to ACTA, subject to clarifications by the Australian Government and the finalisation of a review into copyright reform.
In its final report tabled in Parliament last month, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties recommended the Government conduct an independent and transparent cost/benefit analysis of the agreement.
The mix of anti-ACTA sentiment held by many in European Parliament, and the ongoing negotiations around TPP, means it makes sense for pro-ACTA forces in Europe to push for a delay to the vote.