Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Pro-ACTA lobbies fail on transparency

The European Parliament is facing heavy lobbying in the run-up to a crucial vote on the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Industry lobby groups are stepping up the pressure to make MEPs vote in favour of this global treaty which has come under heavy criticism from civil society.

Almost 2,4 million people signed an Avaaz petition against ACTA, which they fear “could allow corporations to censor the Internet”. This agreement, the petition explains, would “allow private interests to police everything that we do online and impose massive penalties - even prison sentences - against people they say have harmed their business”.

Last week a coalition of 75 industry lobby groups, mainly from sectors such as the music, publishing and film industries, sent a letter to all MEPs, asking them to support ACTA “for the good of Europe”. The lobby groups, representing thousands of European companies who say they are “dependent on intellectual property”, warn that failing to ratify ACTA can “irrevocably affect Europe’s credibility as a trusted global trade partner”.

They call for “a calm and reasoned assessment of the facts rather than the misinformation circulating”. This reaction seems to reflect a nervousness about the fact that there is now finally an open democratic debate about ACTA.

The negotiations that led to the agreement were secretive and deeply undemocratic, with big business lobby groups enjoying generous access while other interests were excluded. And new research by Corporate Europe Observatory shows that the lobbying by the coalition of 75 does also not live up to basic standards of transparency.

Sixty per cent of the industry groups signing the letter to MEPs (45 out of 75) are not even registered as interest representatives in the EU’s Transparency Register. Moreover, among the 30 groups which are registered, six fail to declare how many lobbyists they employ. And the Global Anti-Counterfeiting Group (GACG) absurdly claims that its expenses on lobbying in the financial year 2009 to 2010 were zero euros!

In the register, GACG explains its representation of interests sometimes is done in a voluntary basis and in other cases, costs are borne by the groups affiliated to GACG, but wherever the money comes from, as a lobby group, it should specify how much it spends. This appears to be a clear example of a misleading registration, violating the EU’s Code of Conduct for lobbyists.

Based on the data disclosed in the Transparency Register by the minority in the pro-ACTA coalition that are registered, it can be concluded that they employ at least 93 in-house lobbyists (19 of them with a permanent access pass to the EP) and that they spend around 7 395 000 euros a year on lobbying the EU institutions. It is clearly a very well-resourced lobby that is pushing for ACTA right now.

In the last weeks, demonstrations against the proposed treaty have been held in several cities across the EU and the Avaaz petition also confirms that there are strong concerns among citizens. Some MEPs have already express their position against ACTA as a threat to civil liberties; the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, has said it is not good “in its current form”. The next weeks in the run-up to the Parliament’s vote on ACTA will show whether citizens or big business will win this important battle.

See the full list of organisations and info provided in the register.

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