EU Parliament votes for greater ACTA transparency

Michael Geist is reporting that ”[t]he European Parliament has voted for a proposal to bring more transparency and public access to documents. The resolution includes specific language about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.”

Acting in accordance with Article 255(1) of the EC Treaty, the European Commission should immediately make all documents related to the ongoing international negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) publicly available.

The justification for the language is:

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) will contain a new international benchmark for legal frameworks on what is termed intellectual property right enforcement. The content as known to the public is clearly legislative in character. Further, the Council confirms that ACTA includes civil enforcement and criminal law measures. Since there can not be secret objectives regarding legislation in a democracy, the principles established in the ECJ Turco case must be upheld.

Geist notes that ”[t]he vote sends a strong signal on the need to open the ACTA process and heightens the pressure on the negotiating countries to remove the veil of secrecy.”

I think that the EU Parliament is spot on when it says that ”[s]ince there can not be secret objectives regarding legislation in a democracy” we ought to make these documents public.

Late last year I put this point to DFAT:

When pressed about the secretive process, Dr Nicholas Rodgers from DFAT noted that “the procedure is not an unusual one in trade negotiations, although it is more generally applied to free trade agreements and sub-multilateral groups.” I asked Dr Rodgers what the justifications could be for keeping the negotiations confidential in an intellectual property agreement, as opposed to a trade agreement. Dr Rodgers responded that Australia was not an original proponent of the process, and did not support the secretive manner in which negotiations are taking place. However, Dr Rodgers noted that in order for Australia to 'be in the tent' – to be involved in the negotiations – we had to abide by the ground rules set down for initial participation.

While DFAT have been very helpful to the Australian public by holding public consultations and briefing sessions, the overarching requirement of secrecy was seen as beyond their control – which meant that, as DFAT saw it, they either had the choice to abide by the requirement of secrecy or not 'be in the tent'. This decision by the EU Parliament, if it carries any weight, may be the first step in changing the rules of the negotiations.