ACTA rejection proves European Parliament's worth - Schulz
by Martin Schulz
The European Parliament is the protecting force of democracy for citizens and the decision to reject ACTA proves it – writes the EP President, exclusively for PublicServiceEurope.com
The decision to reject he Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement by the European Parliament was not taken lightly. It followed an intensive, inclusive and transparent debate with civil society, business organisations, national parliaments and many other stakeholders. The rejection of ACTA is a milestone for European democracy. Rarely has a debate on an international treaty been so intense and engaged so many people across the continent and beyond.
The vote against ACTA was not one against the protection of intellectual property. On the contrary - the EP staunchly supports the fight against piracy and counterfeiting, which harm European companies and pose a threat to consumer health and jobs.
The majority of MEPs are of the opinion that ACTA is a wrong solution, a sentiment shared by millions of citizens. The majority in the EP is of the opinion that ACTA is too vague, leaving the room for abuses and raising concern about its impact on consumers' privacy and civil liberties, on innovation and the free flow of information.
For, ACTA was negotiated by a group of industrialised countries in a process that provoked complaints for its lack of transparency. We tried to redress this shortcoming and organised workshops, seminars and other meetings with representatives of civil society and all others involved in the debate. We tried to listen and learn from engaged citizens. I myself talked on several occasions with activists and in online chats.
The debate on ACTA demonstrated the existence of European public opinion that transcends national borders. All over Europe, people were engaged in protests and discussions. The mobilisation of public opinion was unprecedented. As the President of the European Parliament, I am committed to dialogue with citizens and to making Europe more democratic and understandable.
What lessons can we learn from ACTA? First, the EP has a long tradition of defending personal freedoms and fundamental rights and citizens can trust us to defend them. The internet is and will increasingly become a ground for the defence and regulation of human rights and civil liberties in the 21st century. And ACTA is not the first and nor will it be the last time that the European Union is called on to regulate on such a new but also fascinating area. We have to take all possible measures to fight piracy, but this should never be done at the cost of what has made the internet one of the most revolutionary technologies in history. The parliament wants the web to remain free and open.
Second, and most important, the citizens want to have their say, participate and engage in European matters. Inclusion, openness, transparency and controversial debates are vital for the democratic life of the EU. The EP is the place where these debates should take place, and where the will of the people is represented. It is the protecting force of democracy that everybody should take into account.
The rejection of ACTA is an important sign for the society we live in, and shows how the EP can reflect civil society. Also, ACTA's rejection is a sign of openness and democracy in Europe; that civil society has a place where to express its views and this place is the EP. It is also an important signal to the European Commission as well as to the member states: it is not possible to take decisions behind closed doors on things affecting the everyday life of the citizens.
Martin Schulz is President of the European Parliament