Is ACTA the best thing ever to happen to the European Union?
For decades, committed pro-European politicians and academics have wished for a number of ingredients that would be necessary for the credibility of the European institutional framework. They wanted an effective, representative and democratic European Parliament. They wanted a European Parliament that was not just theoretically an equal player in the institutional framework in Brussels, but a Parliament that was a genuine counterweight to the Council (the Member States) and the European Commission. Finally, and most difficult to create, pro-European thinkers dreamed of the possibility of pan-European political campaigns driven by pan-European political movements.
Will ACTA be the issue that allows the European Parliament to assert a new democratic maturity? The reaction of the European Parliament to the avalanche of citizens' protests, phone calls and e-mails in opposition to ACTA has, so far, been that of an institution that is open and attentive to the needs and concerns of citizens – much more even than some national parliaments. The Socialists and Democrats Group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, the Greens and the Green United Left political groups all have taken a decision to oppose ACTA. Four parliamentary committees, albeit with varying degrees of conviction, have voted against ACTA.
Will ACTA be the issue that allows the European Parliament to assert a new, truly powerful and independent voice in the EU institutional framework? The European Commission was confident that the Parliament would back down in the end on ACTA. The Parliament backed down in relation to data retention, to the cost of citizens' rights. It backed down in relation to export of passenger data to the US authorities, to the cost of citizens' rights. It backed down in relation to export of financial data to the US authorities, to the cost of citizens' rights. Why would it not back down in relation to a damaging intellectual property deal? This was the logic of the powerful European Commission in relation to ACTA. But this time things may be different. This time the European Parliament might finally have become a mature institution that is capable of its own decisions, capable of not just recognising the failures of the Commission's policy, but having the confidence to say “STOP”! This time the Parliament may just assert a powerful and independent voice, for the good of European citizens.
Will ACTA be the issue that demonstrates that the European Union is capable of sustaining and respecting a democratic, pan-European citizens' movement? ACTA has created hope in a generation of European citizens. It has created a pan-European movement, a pan-European movement of young citizens that have found a common voice and have faith that this voice will be heard and acted on. It has created exactly what pro-European thinkers have wished for and planned for and hoped for since the very start of the European project. It has created a sense of European citizenship, with shared values and goals.
Of course, the result could still be very different. If the Parliament fails to have the courage of its convictions, if it capitulates to the European Commission and industry misinformation, if it turns its back on a whole generation, it will be undermining itself as a democratic institution, it will be undermining itself as a European institution. If it capitulates, it will do damage to the credibility of the Union that goes far beyond any perceived benefit from an Agreement that the European Commission claims changes nothing in Europe. Even worse, a half-hearted "compromise" from the EU designed to outmanoeuvre its own citizens would generate a whole new level of political cynicism.
ACTA, whether adopted or rejected, will have a long-lasting effect on Europe. Let's hope that ACTA becomes the best thing that ever happened to the European Union.