Karel De Gucht
European Commissioner for Trade
ACTA: Making the right choice
European Parliament, Strasbourg
Tomorrow, you will have to make a choice. It is an important choice for at least two reasons.
First, because the debate over the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement has involved much discussion of its relationship with the fundamental rights and freedoms of European citizens.
Second, because of the signal this vote will send to our trading partners and to the more than 120 million workers that work in Europe’s innovative, manufacturing and creative sectors. They are dependent for their livelihoods on the effective enforcement of intellectual property rights, in Europe and across the rest of the world.
The Commission has asked the European Court of Justice for its opinion on whether the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is compatible with the treaties and in particular with our Charter of Fundamental Rights.
We have done this because these questions are crucial for those who took to the streets over ACTA earlier this year. We share their view that these concerns must be addressed. That is why we the ACTA agreement should be the subject of the most careful scrutiny and deliberation.
In this respect, I believe that it would have been preferable for the Parliament to wait until we know what the Court thinks before voting. But that is not where we are today. Tomorrow you will only be able to choose to vote yes or no to the agreement.
Let me then just say that my considered view as a lifelong supporter of human rights and fundamental freedoms, is that there is nothing to fear in this agreement.
ACTA is not an attack on our liberties, it is a defence of our livelihoods. This is because we do not have to modify any part of our internal legislation, the so-called acquis communautaire. What is legal today in the European Union, will remain legal once ACTA is ratified. And what is illegal today will still remain illegal with ACTA. Nothing changes in the eyes of the law. And since our freedoms are not threatened by our current laws, our freedoms will not be threatened by ACTA.
This is also, I might add, the view of the European Parliament's own legal service.
I hope you will bear these considerations in mind.
Economic consequences are the second reason the vote is important. We all agree that counterfeiting and piracy are a serious problem. They risk undermining one of Europe's most significant competitive advantages over other regions of the world, namely our knowledge-based and creative industries.
ACTA is designed to extend the tools for enforcement of intellectual property rights that have been so successful in Europe – and which this Parliament has always supported – to other countries as well.
No more. No less.
So as you come to make your choice about how to vote tomorrow, you should make no mistake: a vote against ACTA will be a setback for the protection of our intellectual property rights around the world.
Neither are there any quick fixes for its rejection. Those who think that we can come back anytime soon with a revised agreement or with a new treaty have been misled.
What is true is that, if Parliament votes this treaty down, the Commission will continue to wait for the opinion of the Court and study it closely.
Why? Because citizens have raised concerns over its potential impact on fundamental rights, because many of you have raised similar questions – so let's get some answers.
I consider it my obligation, my responsibility as European Commissioner – indeed the responsibility of us all – to ask for clarity from Europe's highest court.
Furthermore, we will also look at how the debate on intellectual property rights evolves over the coming months. There are legitimate issues to be discussed and clarified about some rules on intellectual property rights in the digital environment. For instance, the definition of "commercial scale" and what sharing information means in relation to the challenges one faces with respect to the protection of intellectual property.
I hope that these discussions will be able to happen in their proper context – which is in debates about the substantive law of the European Union, not about international enforcement.
Besides the European Parliament, the Commission would also discuss the outcome of the Court referral with other signatories of ACTA and would then consider further steps to take.
As Europeans I believe that we all share profound respect for individual freedom.
But I also know that freedom needs a framework. What we are doing both with ACTA and with European legislation is making sure that the framework strikes the right balance.
It is a delicate task. We must proceed carefully.