Update2: Malta's MEPs trade charges as European Parliament throws out ACTA
The European Parliament has massively rejected a controversial global pact to battle counterfeiting and online piracy, quashing any possibility of EU ratification.
The pact was rejected by 478 votes to 165.
Twenty-two of the 27 EU states as well as other countries, including the United States and Japan, signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in January but the treaty has yet to be ratified anywhere amid protests that it would curtail Internet freedom.
All Maltese MEPs voted against ACTA this morning.
The treaty had also faced strong resistance in Malta, with a demonstration against it having been held in Valletta. Malta had signed the treaty but did not ratify it.
In the wake of the protest, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had said that the government would present a Bill to safeguard the people's rights to use the Internet.
He said the government believed in four civil rights: the right to internet communication without hindrance; the right for information, from whatever sources including the internet; the right for individuals to be able to express themselves, including on the internet, within the context of what was allowed by civil society; and the right for individuals to decide what information to share, by internet and other means.
These rights, Dr Gonzi, had evolved over the years and needed to be consolidated at law. He had therefore requested the drafting of a law to ensure that these four rights were consolidated and joined other rights which were already found in the Constitution.
A VICTORY FOR FREEDOM - SCICLUNA
Labour MEP Prof Edward Scicluna welcomed today's overwhelming defeat for ACTA.
"This is a victory for freedom on the internet. Intellectual property is one of most valuable commodities of the European economy and we need to have clear rules to protect the rights of authors and performers," Prof Scicluna said.
He said the main problem with Acta was its ambiguity. The sanctions were draconian and it was unclear how they would be applied. Internet service providers would have had sweeping new powers to monitor Internet use.
"We cannot have a system where people can lose their internet connection and face criminal prosecution for sharing downloaded music with their friends," he said.
He noted that in resolutions adopted by MEPs in November 2010, the EPP, which includes Malta's two Nationalist MEPs, and the eurosceptic ECR group, welcomed the deal agreed by the Commission.
Today, he said, the EPP group sought to postpone the vote, having supported the treaty throughout its negotiation.
"I am pleased to see the latest u-turn from our two Nationalist MEPs, who have supported ACTA all the way through the negotiation process only to change their mind when public opinion turned against the treaty.
"We would not be in this predicament if the EPP had not rubber-stamped the deal negotiated by the Commission. ACTA has been flawed from the start. It was negotiated in secret and we only learned about it through Wikileaks in 2008, nearly three years into the talks.
"The Commission must go back to the drawing board to reach a proportionate deal that protects copyright without harming personal freedom."
WE COULD NOT SUPPORT ACTA IN THIS FORM - BUSUTTIL, CASA
Nationalist MEPs Simon Busuttil and David Casa said they could not support ACTA in its current form.
They pointed out that in a statement on January 31 they said: "When the ACTA is voted on in the European Parliament this July, we will only support it if we are completely certain that it does not impinge unduly on the freedom of internet users' ".
In a joint statement, the MEPs said:
"Today we acted consistently with our declaration of last January. After six months of serious examination of the text of the agreement in the European Parliament, we came to the conclusion that the current text does not offer sufficient safeguards on internet freedom.
"Today's choice was not an ideal choice: it was a choice between saying yes to ACTA because we support the international fight against counterfeiting and piracy and saying no to it because of the concerns it raised on internet freedom.
"We would have preferred today's vote to be postponed until the European Court of Justice delivers its ruling on the compatibility of ACTA with human rights. However this request was rejected." they said.
"In the event, given the choice between internet freedom and the fight against piracy, we felt that internet freedom should prevail and we voted accordingly," they concluded.
Reacting to Prof Scicluna's statement, the Nationalist MEPs said that for six months since the ACTA controversy broke out, Prof Scicluna failed to attend a single committee meeting in the European Parliament that was debating ACTA as it was his duty to do as an MEP.
"Over the past six months, we participated in all committee meetings and hearings on ACTA, submitted amendments and even intervened in the plenary debate. But Edward Scicluna was nowhere to be seen. He is quick to issue statements in Malta, he did absolutely nothing in the European Parliament. And now he wants to take the credit." they said.