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Brussels, 22 February 2012
Statement by Commissioner Karel De Gucht on ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement)
I am glad to say that this morning my fellow Commissioners have discussed and agreed in general with my proposal to refer the ACTA agreement to the European Court of Justice.
We are planning to ask Europe’s highest court to assess whether ACTA is incompatible - in any way - with the EU's fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression and information or data protection and the right to property in case of intellectual property.
As you are no doubt aware, within the EU institutional process, the European Commission has already passed ACTA to national governments for ratification. The Council has adopted ACTA unanimously in December and authorised Member States to sign it. The Commission has also passed on ACTA to the European Parliament for debate and a future vote.
That said, I believe the European Commission has a responsibility to provide our parliamentary representatives and the public at large with the most detailed and accurate information available. So, a referral will allow for Europe’s top court to independently clarify the legality of this agreement.
In recent weeks, the ratification process of ACTA has triggered a Europe-wide debate on ACTA, the freedom of the internet and the importance of protecting Europe’s Intellectual Property for our economies.
But let me be very clear: I share people’s concern for these fundamental freedoms. I welcome that people have voiced their concerns so actively – especially over the freedom of the internet. And I also understand that there is uncertainty on what ACTA will really mean for these key issues at the end of the day.
So I believe that putting ACTA before the European Court of Justice is a needed step. This debate must be based upon facts and not upon the misinformation or rumour that has dominated social media sites and blogs in recent weeks.
As I have explained before the European Parliament on several occasions, ACTA is an agreement that aims to raise global standards of enforcement of intellectual property rights. These very standards are already enshrined in European law. What counts for us is getting other countries to adopt them so that European companies can defend themselves against blatant rip-offs of their products and works when they do business around the world.
This means that ACTA will not change anything in the European Union, but will matter for the European Union.
Intellectual property is Europe’s main raw material, but the problem is that we currently struggle to protect it outside the European Union. This hurts our companies, destroys jobs and harms our economies. This is where ACTA will change something for all of us - as it will help protect jobs that are currently lost because counterfeited and pirated goods worth 200 billion Euros are floating around on the world markets.
So let me be clear: ACTA will change nothing about how we use the internet and social websites today – since it does not introduce any new rules. ACTA only helps to enforce what is already law today.
ACTA will not censor websites or shut them down; ACTA will not hinder freedom of the internet or freedom of speech.
Let's cut through this fog of uncertainty and put ACTA in the spotlight of our highest independent judicial authority: the European Court of Justice.
This clarity should help support a calm, reasoned, open and democratic discussion on ACTA - whether at the national or at the European level. We will also be in contact with the other European institutions to explain this step and why it would make sense that they make the same move.
Further information on ACTA:
More information on the transparency during the ACTA negotiations