So, here we are: the final decisive week that is likely to determine the fate not just of ACTA, but also the course of digital copyright law in the world for the next few years (for the full background to how we got here, and what has happened along the way, see previous ACTA Updates.) That's because ACTA is not a law as such, but a treaty that sets the context for future laws of its signatories. It's why ACTA is so dangerous: it effectively neuters the sovereign power of nations – and hence of their citizens.
In fact, democracy itself has emerged as a key issue for the ACTA vote, following an extraordinary speech last week by the commissioner responsible for ACTA, Karel De Gucht. He was talking to the International Trade (INTA) committee, in a last-ditch attempt to persuade them to postpone the decision on what recommendation to make to the European Parliament . He failed, and INTA became the fifth committee (out of five) to recommend rejection.
But along the way he made some incredible statements about what the European Commission intended to do with ACTA. For example, De Gucht made it clear that regardless of how the European Parliament votes on Wednesday, the European Commission will continue with its referral of ACTA to the European Court of Justice:
If you decide for a negative vote before the European Court rules, let me tell you that the Commission will nonetheless continue to pursue the current procedure before the Court, as we are entitled to do. A negative vote will not stop the proceedings before the Court of Justice.
So why will the European Commission do this? Well, it naturally hopes that the ECJ rules in its favour; but if it doesn't, it won't accept the decision:
If the Court questions the conformity of the agreement with the Treaties we will assess at that stage how this can be addressed.
That is, it will try to find some way around the ECJ's decision if it goes against them. But it gets worse:
I would intend to make a second request for consent to the European Parliament.
That is, even if the European Parliament votes against ACTA, the European Commission will simply carry on as if nothing happened and wait for the ECJ vote. If it goes in their favour, they will doubtless claim that this vindicates them, and present ACTA to the European Parliament again. Even if the ECJ vote goes against them, they will find some excuse to ignore it and still ask the European Parliament to vote again. As De Gucht says:
Whether the Parliament will consider it under this legislature or the subsequent one, will be for you to decide.
In other words, you can either pass it now, or you can pass it in the future: the European Commission doesn't give a damn about your opinions, and will force ACTA through, one way or another.
This shows utter contempt not just for the parliamentarians, but also for the people they represent. It's as if none of the street demonstrations against ACTA ever took place, and as if none of the millions of emails and phone calls to MEPs had ever happened: De Gucht says plainly that the wishes of the people are simply irrelevant. The European Commission has decided that ACTA must pass, and everyone else should just shut up and do as they are told.
Against the background of that insulting attitude, I think it's important that MEPs regard Wednesday's vote on ACTA not just as about the right of European citizens to free speech and privacy – both of which would be endangered thanks to ACTA's intentionally vague wording – but about European democracy. A vote against ACTA is therefore also a vote against De Gucht's bullying, and a vote for a European Parliament with dignity that can stand up for its constituents.
A vote for ACTA, by contrast, will be interpreted by the European Commission as a sign of weakness, and a token of the European Parliament's submission to De Gucht's peremptory edicts. That would be a terrible signal to give for the future relationship of the two institutions – and for European democracy.
Bearing that in mind, I would urge you, for the last time, to contact your MEPs if you have not already done so – and to do it again if you have. If you are in the UK, the Open Rights Group has put together a handy list of all UK MEPs; if you're elsewhere, La Quadrature du Net's Political Memory site is the place to look. La Quadrature du Net also offer a free service so that you can ring your MEPs free of charge. Remember that MEPs will be in Strasbourg this week.
Contacting MEPs personally is by far the most effective thing to do, but understandably not everyone can do that, for various reasons. The next best thing is to send a polite and personal email to your MEPs. Please keep these concise and calm, however much we might all feel the urge to express our anger over ACTA and how it has been drawn up – at this stage it will be counterproductive, and could even alienate those who support our position. And please make it as personal as possible, because that gives it far greater weight than more formulaic stuff borrowing phrases from elsewhere.
Tomorrow I'll post here the email I'll be sending in a final appeal; I hope that you will join me in doing so over the next couple of days as we make the final push to kill off ACTA once and for all.
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