If a decision has the potential to touch the lives of millions of people, the least you can do in this democratic age is conduct your deliberations out in the open, where everyone can see the arguments for and against and judge the outcome in the light of all the facts. As the EU's only directly elected body, this is a lesson the European Parliament has taken to heart. Every step in its decision process is taken in the open, with citizens able to scrutinise every document and every meeting. This also helps keep Parliament responsive to public feeling on the questions that really matter to people. For example, it went toe to toe with the US in 2010 when it blocked a controversial agreement over allowing American investigators access to European bank data in their fight against terrorism.
It is now set to play a key role in another international agreement which awakens passions across the globe. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which aims to beef up enforcement in the fight against counterfeit products and copyright infringements (including on the internet), has led to wide-spread protests around the world, especially amongst internet freedom activists. Supporters call the agreement necessary to protect developed economies from losses due to piracy and counterfeiting. However opponents fear it will protect large companies at the expense of individual privacy and civil rights.
How the Parliament votes in the end will prove crucial to the fate of ACTA, as without its consent the EU will not be able to go ahead with the agreement. This decision is yet to come. However, one thing is already clear: it does know it wants to come to its decision in a clear and transparent way. From the start indeed Parliament has called for more openness on ACTA. As early as 11 March 2009 it adopted a resolution to urge the Commission immediately to make all documents related to the ongoing international negotiations on ACTA available. There was also a resolution on 10 March 2010 to reject secrecy around ACTA.
Over the coming months the Parliament will be reaching out to as many people as possible. It wants to draw on all the expertise and knowledge available and hear all different views before making an informed choice. Although the parliamentary Committee on International Trade will be responsible for coming up with a recommendation, four other committees will be delivering their opinions on the agreement. Most of these meetings will be broadcast live on the European Parliament's website for all to see. Documents will be available through Parliament's website. Anyone with concerns is also free to contact their MEP. When the recommendation is delivered, it will be made public as will the reasons for it. And finally, when the vote comes, it will again be broadcast live on the website.
As yet, it is impossible to tell which way the Parliament will vote. But at least it will be in a transparent way.