A matter of form, part of the procedure, a formality - the European Parliament's scrutiny of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) wasn't expected to bring any surprises. After all, it had already been negotiated by major industrialised countries around the world, including the US and had received the European Commission's blessing and the backing of EU member states.
And yet... contrary to all expectations, MEPs voted overwhelmingly to reject the agreement that many had criticised as a threat to human rights. In rejecting its first international trade agreement, the EU's only directly-elected body showed it had the courage to listen to the concerns of people out in the real world. It was not the first time the Parliament defied expectations and it was not the first time this year that its actions will change the everyday lives of EU citizens. So, it's worth looking at what the Parliament has been working on in the first half of 2012.
Given the state of the economy, it is no surprise that MEPs have been looking at ways to stimulate growth and create jobs. What has been different is that they have been willing and daring to looking for solutions across national borders and away from vested interests.
Most MEPs support the idea of a financial transaction tax on shares, bonds and derivatives in order to deter reckless and disruptive speculation without affecting the real economy. At a time when some bankers take home 10 times their base salary thanks to bonuses, MEPs have been calling for a limit on bonuses equivalent to one year's salary. MEPs have also been backing and improving proposals to limit the growth of debt and deficits in member states, the so-called six-pack. This was followed up by the two-pack to step up financial discipline within the eurozone. In addition, the economic affairs committee backed a draft regulation to regulate credit rating agencies and reduce reliance on their ratings. Committee members felt more responsibility, transparency and independence needed to be injected into credit rating activities. In addition MEPs are scrutinising legislation to make mortgage markets more stable.
It's not all about the economy, of course. The Parliament has also been working on other proposals to improve people's lives. Two committees have endorsed a directive to give victims of crime the same basic rights across the EU, including an individual assessment of their needs.
What about consumers? An agreement endorsed by the Parliament saw the cost of using mobile phones, smartphones and tablets when travelling fall sharply from 1 July. The deal also makes it possible for clients to buy roaming services from suppliers other than their home service suppliers and opens up the market to new entrants so as to boost competition and reduce prices. The Parliament is also coming to the rescue of consumers in distress. On 10 July, the internal market committee adopted two proposals making it easier to resolve consumer disputes without resorting to the courts.
Parliament has also backed new rules to cut red tape and prevent fraud in road transport. The proposals will pave the way for smart tachographs capable of monitoring how long lorry drivers have been behind the wheel. This will help protect drivers and keep everyone safer.
Work will continue throughout the summer on a number of key issues, including the 2013 budget, but as there are no formal committee meetings or plenaries, this blog will take a break until official business begins again in September.