Journalist Monika Ermert provides a wrap-up of the ALDE hearing on ACTA for IP-Watch. Let me share my thoughts on a few other impressions from the April hearing on ACTA by the liberal group, organised by MEP Marietje Schaake (D66) and MEP Alexander Alvaro (FDP) (partial video recordings on youtube):
Servants and masters
When you have a servant you basically want him to obey his master (“you”) without the need for explicit orders and surveillance. When you are forced to give orders you don’t expect your servant to explore all means to circumvent or even oppose your will; you expect him to execute your will and act in accordance with your guidance. This applies to public servants at the European Commission as well. Usually persons in administration restrain themselves but trick a bit. Quite the opposite with DG Trade staff, they act against that rule and push everything to the max, driven by a kind of administrative activism.
What do I mean in the context of ACTA?
I am wondering who actually requested or mandated the EU negotiator to challenge the parliament or the legal base? Why does DG Trade follow an interpretation of the Parliament resolution that seems out of line with the resolution text? The resolution asked to limit ACTA to counterfeiting cases: the alternative interpretation of DG Trade is unsupported by the persons who drafted the resolution, not backed by anyone in Parliament. Did the new EU-Commissioner De Gucht endorse that an EU trade negotiator negotiates with the competent domestic legislator and democratic scrutinizer? I doubt so.
It is the one dimensional “maximalist attitude” which regards politics, legal technicalities, competences, balances, mandates, concerns as simple constraints to be pushed to their limits, because what matters is only your ultimate objective, maximum enforcement. You see the same strategic approach in the broadening of the agenda to include non-counterfeiting, all sorts of diverse rights and controversial legal tools. That ambition broadens also the alliance of its opponents and endangers consensus. Thus my bet that ACTA would “go nowhere”.
What fascinated me about ACTA from the very start of the process, the way in which the Commission brushed away all the technical difficulties, complicated technicalities that were so challenging in the previous ipred2 criminal sanctions process and the ipred1 debate. Unlike IP professionals and scholars they don’t care for the overall legal architecture. They would even call for the provision of “death penalty” for “suspected” counterfeiters and the only thing to hold them back would be the system of law&order, and fundamental rights including the European prohibition of death penalty, so they could not go for that.
My example isn’t as absurd as it may appear. Ironically, maybe without noticing what she called for, an Ebay representative once suggested the physical elimination of counterfeiters in a parliament hearing organised by MEP Mme Herczog, to “take them also off the offline world”. At the same meeting her colleague Arlene McCarthy (uk labour) made a crazy “direct link” between drug dealers, gun crime, child abuse websites, ip infringers and terrorism and called on the ISPs to stick to their “social responsibility” and filter the net. Most famous became the “three strikes/graduated response” idea in the context of ISP liability, language originating from military escalations and draconic penalty laws from the US for repeated offenders.
Net filtering isn’t very popular these days. Particularly relevant in the ACTA context are the controversial “three strikes” policies which lack political backing in Europe, quite the contrary now. At the ALDE hearing the trade negotiator had to admit that they would support non-mandatory recommendations / elements to this end as part of ACTA, because non-mandatory schemes would not change the acquis (Acquis, that is the corpus of existing legislation). I was very impressed. That was huge and I am not sure everyone in the room got the joke. As I don’t care much about the substance of ACTA but more the “technical” side, I was very amazed that they would attempt to slip through that loop hole. Quote:
You may call me a liar [hehe] but that is very clearly the Commission’s position and I will stand by it.
You see, the Commission staff in a harlekin role, kind of funny. At the stakeholder meeting 22 March a support for “three strikes” was still denied (which of course no one believed). There the same person still replied to Mr. Zimmermann it “won’t be induced neither”. A representative of internet provider XS4ALL was smart enough to think about a loop hole, almost like a bunny making friends with the snake, she asked if it “was hard” for the negotiator to get the “three strikes” out at the negotiations table with third nations (because when it is not in the “EU position” it can be played via other parties at the table and end up in the final text). “No one’s ever propose that”, was the answer of the negotiator, three strikes was “no one’s idea”. Rather a surprise given that it is a European idea, and they talked a lot about those graduated response options abroad.
The question remains unanswered who ever requested the EU-Commission to make (formal and informal) proposals or suggestions to trade partners towards this end? Who is actually put in charge here? You cannot expect Parliament to close all possible loopholes of a negotiating position which is not in line with its democratic will.
There is a great legend around the executioner Rosenfeld who killed captured Klaus Stoertebeker and all his fellow victual broethers (pirates) one by one. When he was mentioned by the Hamburg Senate for his dirty work he replied that it wasn’t a big deal for him, he wouldn’t mind the effort to let the members of senate follow in the line. The Senate didn’t feel comfortable with his bloodthirstiness and decided to put him to death.