Yesterday, the net’s alarm bells went off all at once regarding a new trade agreement – CETA, an agreement between the Canada and the European Union – that would sneak ACTA’s provisions into law through the back door, now that ACTA had been forcefully rejected by the European Parliament. The whole net was angry with the European Commission and its disrespect for democracy. I think such alarm bells are premature.
The original post came from Michael Geist, and it was followed up on BoingBoing and Techdirt before long. Geist lists several passages of the new trade agreement, CETA, side by side with passages in ACTA, showing us how the two are identical in passages.
However, the net reacts as though this was written after it was clear that the European Parliament would reject ACTA, or even after the rejection itself last week: that it was an intentional back door for the same provisions. The timeline doesn’t support that conclusion.
The leaked CETA documents – the live versions of which are still being negotiated, by the way – were written in February 2012, according to Geist. The reason they reiterate exactly what is written in ACTA is much easier explained by the documents being written before the street protests started: those documents were simply written in the assumption that ACTA was practically a done deal just needing rubberstamping, and so, the negotiators copied material from ACTA as a background for the new agreement.
This was more than a reasonable assumption from the European Commission in February 2012; it was even the way I would have expected them to do their job, whether I liked it or not.
Today, however, reality looks completely different. The Europarl is watchful of anything that resembles ACTA and gave the European Commission the bitchslap of its life in the rejection of ACTA. If the Commission tried anything like that today and again, like with this CETA thing, they’d be a) acting in bad faith, and b) asking for the political bitchslap of their lives squared – possibly up to and including being fired by Parliament. (A resignation of the responsible Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, was hinted at during the ACTA proceedings – and Parliament is going to regard another attempt at doing the same thing with an utter lack of humor.)
So this is not “ACTA rises again”. This is not “ACTA, the First Zombie Remake”. This is an entirely logical document as it would have been written in February of 2012, written with the political assumptions of its time in mind.
Today, reality looks starkly different. If the European Commission thinks they can get anything like this through European Parliament, they’re ignorant and stupid. The Commission can sometimes come across as ignorant, due to their lack of contact surface with ordinary citizens, but they’re very very far from stupid.
That said, now that the alarm bells have gone off, it’s doubtful if CETA will pass if it’s even remotely similar to ACTA. We’re at the level where being printed on the same kind of paper may be too much – ACTA is that toxic. I expect the net will keep its watchful eyes on continuing CETA developments to alert Europarl of any foul play, but we’re not quite there yet.
Concern, vigilance, distrust, and watchfulness – absolutely. But panic and alarm would appear premature at this point.