EU: Parliament holds back ACTA-documents
The European Parliament has called for transparency on new global trade rules, but refuses to give access to documents on a controversial agreement in its own possession.
EU–parliamentarians have time and again asked for access to documents on ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement); a set of new trade rules that the EU has negotiated with USA, Japan and eight other nations.
Now when the negotiations have ended, the EU needs consent from the Parliament to sign the agreement. A plenary vote is expected to take place sometime in the autumn.
Here the transparency seems to stop.
INTA, the committee on international trade in the Parliament, has got all relevant documents to understand the content of ACTA, according to the Commission, but the committee is not willing to share with others.
Joe McNamee working for the organization EDRi (European Digital Rights) is frustrated not to have access to the background documents:
”Multiple parts of the agreement are completely opaque and according to the Vienna convention (rules on international agreements) preparing papers should be used for clarification,” he says, and gives an example:
”The agreement talks of cooperation between Internet providers and law enforcement agencies. What is that? In previous, leaked, versions there was a footnote here about providers disconnecting users after repeatedly misuse of the Internet. Is that solved now? Is there a common understanding if this should be the rule?”
EDRi has thus requested access to the preparing documents from the trade committee.
So far the committee has turned a deaf ear to the request.
”There is no decision yet,” informs the secretariat of the committee, close to two months after the request was made.
The EU-regulations on access to documents states that a request as a general rule should be answered within 15 working days.
The Parliament claims to be in favour of transparency in legislation in general, and has criticized the secret ACTA-negotiations, Joe McNamee of EDRi points out.
“It would be totally inconsistent if the EP after three calls for transparency in the legal process would refuse to give access to documents,” he says.
In an e-mail to this website an administrator at the INTA writes that the committee cannot distribute documents that are not of its origin.
Whether this is in line with the Parliaments internal rules of classified documents, or something the committee has decided by itself, seems unclear.
This website has therefore filed a formal request for the same documents as EDRi to the Parliaments register making references to the regulation 1049/2001 on access to documents.
One controversial aspect of the ACTA-agreements has to do with regulations of the Internet.
Critics suggest that ACTA would give enforced competence to Internet providers to block out costumers, and also introduce new measures at border controls. ACTA is said to introduce unseen powers to custom controls to check the content of hard disks, CDs, memory sticks and other digital hardware, in the search for counterfeit files.
A third source of complaints has been the potential effects for the production and sale of generic medicines in Third world countries.
The Commission has rejected these worries and other, arguing that the purpose of ACTA is to enforce present laws on intellectual property – patents, copyrights, etc – not to create a new legal landscape.
An extensive compilation of questions from parliamentarians and the Commissions answers to them has been published by the Commissions trade directorate, as well as comments on the critical opinion of European Academics on ACTA.