Time out for Finland in ratifying ACTA
At its meeting on 9 March, the Cabinet Committee on European Union Affairs decided to postpone national ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). ACTA aims to ensure global enforcement of protection for intellectual property rights.
On 22 February 2012, the European Commission decided to refer the ACTA agreement to the European Court of Justice for assessment, in order to dispel any doubts that ACTA is incompatible in any way with citizens fundamental rights and freedoms. Because the provisions of the agreement mostly fall within the mandate of the EU, it would not be expedient for Finland to announce ratification of ACTA before the EU commits itself to the proposal.
The Commissions press release stated that the Courts assessment will help support a calm, reasoned, open and democratic discussion of ACTA at national and European level. Court proceedings are likely to take twelve to eighteen months, and the European Parliaments stance on the agreement will be clear by 2013 at the earliest. Moreover, the EUs commitment to the agreement is subject to parliamentary approval.
Finland signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement on 26 January 2012, together with the European Union and 21 other EU Member States. Signature of the agreement does not mean that its provisions will become effective at once. Instead, Finland can commit itself to the agreement only after it has been approved by Parliament and President of the Republic. The agreement will be submitted to Parliament for approval by way of a government proposal, the preparation of which has not yet begun.
ACTA has already been signed by Australia, South Korea, Japan, Canada, Morocco, Singapore, New Zealand and the United States. Of the negotiating parties, Mexico and Switzerland, plus five EU Member States (the Netherlands, Cyprus, Germany, Slovakia and Estonia) have not yet signed. When six signatories announce approval of the agreement, it will enter into force between these six countries. So far, no notifications on approving the agreement have been received.
Preparation at national level, and publicity
In Finland, preparations regarding the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement have been carried out in cooperation between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education and Culture, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Employment and the Economy, and Ministry of Finance. The Government has prepared Finlands stances on the agreement in collaboration with Parliament. Various NGOs in Finland were informed of the status of negotiations within the limits of legislation on openness. National consultations on the agreement negotiations were arranged in April 2008 and May 2010, and upon signing the agreement, in April-May 2011. In addition, in September 2008 and May 2010, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs hosted a seminar on ACTA, open to the general public.
Finland has actively supported enhancing the openness of negotiations and has called for the EU to proceed actively in the matter. A draft proposal was published for the first time in April 2010, while the negotiations were still in progress.
Contrary to claims voiced in public, ACTA does not oblige the contracting parties authorities to check travellers luggage, portable computers, audio players or mobile phones. Another alleged threat is that ACTA would result in web censorship and oblige teleoperators to shut down users Internet connections in cases of violation. However, ACTA does not impose any new obligations on providers of Internet services and, in this respect, requires no change in the legislation in force in Finland or the EU. For instance, ACTA does not require service providers (teleoperators) to shut down users Internet connections or restrict them in cases of violation, nor does it require parties to the agreement to adjust the related legislation. On the other hand, ACTA does not prevent the issuance of provisions of this type or others extending beyond the scope of the agreement. Should they so wish, some countries may therefore impose stricter obligations on service providers.
In addition, it has been claimed that ACTA would prevent the import of generic pharmaceuticals and thus affect the availability of medicines. However, the agreement does not tighten control over the import or transit of pharmaceuticals.
Inquiries: Okko-Pekka Salmimies, Head of Unit for the EU's Trade Policy and Economic Relations, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, tel. +358 9 160 555 30; Mary-Anne Nojonen, Commercial Counsellor, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, tel. +358 9 160 555 60; Jorma Walden, Counsellor of Government, Legal Affairs (copyright), Ministry of Education and Culture, tel. +358 9 160 773 84; Sanna Mikkola, Senior Adviser, Legislative Affairs (criminal law), Ministry of Justice, tel. +358 9 160 677 09