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ACTA: Deliberating Out in the Open Over an Agreement Negotiated Behind Closed Doors

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The fate of the controversial ACTA anti-counterfeiting agreement will finally be decided during the July plenary when the European Parliament puts it to a vote. Without the Parliament's approval, it will not be able to enter into force in the EU.

Even before the Parliament started to get to grips with it, people were already in an uproar over ACTA. Supporters said the agreement was necessary to protect European jobs and companies while opponents said it favoured large firms at the expense of civil rights.

One of the most abiding complaints was that the agreement was negotiated in secret with no opportunity for citizens to influence the process.

As the Parliament is the EU's only directly-elected institution, it has always been committed to engaging citizens and coming to decisions in a transparent way. So when it was time to scrutinise ACTA, it decided to do so as thoroughly and openly as possible.

Normally, one parliamentary committee takes the lead and invites opinions from one or two other committees. For ACTA, the international trade committee was asked to prepare a recommendation, but to ensure every possible angle was covered, four other committees were asked to contribute, namely the industry, research and energy committee; the legal affairs committee; the civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee; and the development committee. They spent months talking to as many stakeholders and interested parties as possible in order to draw on their knowledge and expertise and come to an informed decision.

In April a workshop was held so that experts and activists on both sides of the issue had a chance to vent their arguments to MEPs. This and all committee meetings were streamed live on the EP website. In addition all official documents, including the recommendations of all the committees, were posted online.

The Parliament also tried to make the issue accessible to the general public. It published an easy to follow infographic on the situation so far, as well as an infographic on how MEPs would come to a decision on ACTA. There were also many articles on the website explaining the latest state of play and what was coming up. Social media were used to encourage citizens to discuss
the agreement and to alert people to live video of meetings on ACTA.

As the Parliament received several petitions asking MEPs to reject ACTA, including one signed by about 3 million people, the petitions committee organised a meeting to give the organisers a chance to air their views.

With the vote during the July plenary, Parliament's role in ACTA is nearly finished. The four parliamentary committees advising on the agreement and the lead committee have all come out against ACTA. However, as these recommendations are not binding, what MEPs will decide to do remains uncertain.. What is sure, however, is that the Parliament stuck to its intention to make its deliberation process as transparent as possible. Maybe not everyone will agree with the result of the final vote, but at least they will be able to understand how MEPs came to a decision.