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European Commission to Refer ACTA to Europe's Highest Court

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, February 22 2012

The European Commission plans to refer the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) to the European Court of Justice "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," according to a statement released by one of the commissioners earlier today.

The announcement comes ahead of renewed protests of the treaty planned for Saturday across Europe, following earlier protests that took place Europe-wide on Feb. 11.

"... 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," said Karel De Gucht, the European commissioner for trade, in a statement. "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.

De Gucht acknowledged that ACTA was already bound for a vote in Parliament and that it had already been passed on to member states for ratification.

"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," he stated.

"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," he wrote. Following the court's decision, he said, "This clarity should help support a calm, reasoned, open and democratic discussion on ACTA - whether at the national or at the European level."

The European Parliament's rapporteur for ACTA, David Martin, welcomed the European Commission's decision. "Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht today admitted that there are still many question marks about ACTA and what the implementation of the agreement, as it stands, would mean for citizens and for the freedom of the Internet," he said in a statement. "The Parliament has been calling for more clarity for a long time, and we already requested legal opinions from several committees in the European Parliament. Now this ruling will be a good guarantee for the impact on fundamental rights."

While many news articles reported that the Commission is suspending efforts to ratify the treaty, debate in the European Parliament is still scheduled to continue. "We will wait for the ECJ ruling before we draw conclusions, but an open political debate in the European Parliament is also necessary on the measures foreseen by ACTA," Martin stated. The first discussion in Parliament's International Trade Committee will take place Feb. 29, while a hearing where members of the Parliament will discuss ACTA with academics, civil society bodies and EU officials is scheduled for March 1.

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