November 23, 2011

Dutch parliament refuses ACTA secrecy

Print More

On the same day that the European Parliament had its first secret meeting on ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), the Dutch parliament decided it will not take ACTA into consideration unless all ACTA negotiation texts are published.

A few weeks ago, the Dutch House of Representatives’ committee of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation requested the ACTA negotiation texts (the earlier versions of ACTA). The minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, Maxime Verhagen, sent the texts to parliament, adding a non disclosure obligation. In debates, Members of Parliament may not refer to the documents, nor quote from them.

Sunday, Bits of Freedom sent a letter to the committee, asking the committee not to accept the secrecy.

Committee member Kees Verhoeven (D66) proposed a message from the committee to the minister that no substantive treatment of any ACTA document can be made without publication of all relevant documents and above all that the committee can discuss all documents in public. According to experts, the treaty has major implications for Dutch legislation (eg on copyright and Internet freedoms) and the House can’t at the moment consult experts nor can it inform the public about ACTA’s consequences, since ACTA is partly confidential. For this reason, the committee also requests the minister not to take irreversible steps, neither in Europe and nor in the Netherlands, in terms of ACTA. And towards the commission itself, the proposal to temporarily withdraw all ACTA related documents from the agenda until the minister discloses all documents.

Bits of Freedom reports a majority in the Dutch House of Representatives (D66, PVV, GroenLinks, SP and PvdA) adopted the proposal.

Update: December 13, the PVV changed opinion, a plenary motion did not get a majority.

Meanwhile in Brussels, the European Parliament International Trade committee (INTA) held a highly controversial in-camera meeting to learn what the legal service of the European Parliament thinks of ACTA.

On 9 November, the FFII had send an open letter to the Chairman of the Committee on International Trade (INTA), in which the FFII objected to the planned in-camera meeting on the 23th. On 12 November the INTA chairman defended the secrecy in a letter to the FFII.

7 civil society groups asked for European Parliament transparency on ACTA on the 17th. On Friday the 18th, the Parliament refused to disclose the legal service’s opinion on ACTA, “disclosure would undermine the protection of the public interest as regards international relations”.

On Sunday, the FFII filed a confirmatory application for the legal service’s opinion on ACTA. According to the FFII, the argument that disclosure of the opinion would undermine international relations is totally overstretched. The Parliament’s second reason violates the European Court of Justice case law (Turco case), and the third argument lacks substance.

On Monday 21st, sources in Parliament reported the meeting was postponed. But on Wednesday the 23th, the meeting was on.

Henrik Alexandersson, assistant to Christian Engstrom, reports on his blog:

– Controversial INTA meeting on ACTA held in camera today 23 November despite protests from Civil Society.
– Previous decision to postpone the meeting annulled yesterday night by INTA Coordinators.
– Vote on holding the meeting in public was denied.

After 4 European Parliament resolutions asking for ACTA transparency, the Parliament now took the decision to keep the legal service’s opinion confidential. And to meet in-camera.

This whole show will be repeated soon: the Legal Affairs Committee asked for a legal service’s opinion as well.

A partly secret ratification process… How deep do you want to sink?

The European Parliament should take a good look at the Dutch Parliament’s example.