SME Chamber

ECJ to rule on anti-piracy agreement

 Commission orders a legal review of ACTA – The European Commission is to refer a controversial agreement on combating counterfeiting to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to rule on whether it complies with EU law.

Karel De Gucht, the European commissioner for trade, said the request for a legal opinion on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) would bring an immediate halt to the ratification of the deal, which has faced opposition from MEPs, member states and civil liberties groups.

He said the decision was taken to reassure European citizens that ACTA would not violate their rights. "Putting ACTA before the European Court of Justice is a necessary step," said De Gucht. "This debate must be based on facts and not on misinformation and rumour."

He said the Commission would ask the ECJ to check if the agreement was in line with the EU's fundamental rights, such as the freedom of expression, and whether it violated EU data protection rules and EU intellectual property rights.

De Gucht said he was confident that the ECJ would find that ACTA complied with EU laws. The accord would not give member states or the EU extra powers, he insisted. "ACTA will not censor websites or shut them down. ACTA will not hinder freedom of the internet or freedom of speech," he said.


Critics fear the deal would curb internet users' rights. The accord was agreed in November 2010 after four years of negotiations between the EU's 27 members and ten other countries, including the US and Japan. It aims to improve the fight against counterfeit goods at international level through greater co-ordination of anti-counterfeiting measures and tougher enforcement.

Thousands of people have taken part in demonstrations in several member states to voice their opposition to the deal.

A growing number of MEPs have also voiced concerns over ACTA. The decision to refer the agreement to the ECJ was seen as a pre-emptive move by the Commission to avoid a stand-off with the European Parliament. Green MEPs have already come out against ACTA and the Socialists and Democrats group and the Liberals have warned that they might not be able to support the agreement. The consent of MEPs is needed for EU ratification.

David Martin, a UK centre-left MEP who is drafting the Parliament's position on ACTA, welcomed the Commission's decision. He said that the Parliament had "been calling for more clarity for a long time".

The referral to the ECJ would "be a good guarantee for the impact on fundamental rights",Martin said.

Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German Green MEP, said the court referral was "hopefully a nail in the coffin of this far-reaching and unnecessary agreement". A spokesman for the centre-right European People's Party said a ruling would help clear up uncertainty.

Commission officials declined to estimate how long it would take the ECJ to draft an opinion, but Parliament officials said it could take more than a year.

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