The European Parliament rejected by a wide majority the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international copyright deal which, critics say, threatened internet freedom.
Only 39 lawmakers voted in favour of ACTA on Wednesday; 478 rejected it, while 165 abstained, killing off the EU ratification process. This might give an incentive to other signatories to also walk out, forcing the renegotiation or the outright abandonment of the agreement.
The conservative European People's Party (EPP), the largest group in the EU assembly, unsuccessfully tried to postpone the vote until the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivers a verdict on whether ACTA really poses a risk to civil liberties.
"No emergency surgery, no transplant, no long period of recuperation is going to save ACTA: it is time to give it its last rites, it is time to allow its friends to mourn and for the rest of us to get on with our lives," British socialist David Martin, who drafted parliament's opinion on ACTA, said before the vote.
"Rejecting the ACTA flat out, without trying to address concrete concerns, after years of negotiating, does nothing to handle the serious threats to European jobs and enterprises ACTA intended to solve," EPP member Christofer Fjellner complained afterwards.
By contrast, lawmakers from the Green group, which campaigned vigorously against the deal, waved banners saying "Hello Democracy, Goodbye ACTA."
The agreement had been signed by Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States, as well as by the EU and its member states. It establishes global standards against counterfeit goods, non-licensed generic medicines and online piracy.
'ACTA is going nowhere'
In a debate Tuesday, Martin said that its wording was too vague and could lead to abuse. For example, he raised the possibility that internet service providers could be forced to police their customers' behaviour to prevent online piracy.
Oxfam, a development non-governmental organization, also charged that ACTA risked denying people in poorer countries access to cheaper medicines.
"ACTA could have made life-saving drugs much costlier for the world's poorest, resulting in devastating consequences for their health. With Europe's rejection, we're now hugely relieved that ACTA is going nowhere," said Oxfam spokeswoman Leila Bodeux.
EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who represented the bloc in ACTA negotiations, had in vain tried to reassure lawmakers that the agreement would not have forced any change in EU legislation.
"Since our freedoms are not threatened by our current laws, our freedoms will not be threatened by ACTA," he said in debate Tuesday, while adding that there would be "no quick fixes" after a parliamentary 'no' vote.
"With the rejection of ACTA, the need to protect the backbone of Europe's economy across the globe, our innovation, our creativity, our ideas - our intellectual property - does not disappear," he added in a written statement on Wednesday.
Even after the parliamentary rejection, the commission still intends to wait for the ECJ to have its say on ACTA and then "consult with our international partners on how to move forward," De Gucht said.
Mass demonstrations have taken place against ACTA in several European countries, leading governments in Germany and elsewhere to perform a policy U-turn, halting national ratification procedures after having signed the agreement in January.
The EU parliament also received a worldwide petition against the agreement, signed by 2.8 million people.
Since obtaining more powers under the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, the EU assembly has taken a far more assertive stance. Most notably, it struck down an anti-terrorism deal with the United States on sharing bank data in 2010, forcing the EU commission to renegotiate it. dpa alv ncs Author: Alvise Armellini