Alarm Over CETA Appears Premature

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.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. anon

    Thank you for taking a non-sensationalist position on this story and being the soothing voice of reason. I thought pretty much the same when I read about it. It makes sense that two concurrently negotiated trade agreements include similar provisions. We should wait for post-ACTA drafts to surface before forming an opinion on the matter.

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  3. 0xPirate

    CETA is a /huge/ problem, especially the intellectual property chapter and the provisions allowing for the privatization of public Canadian water by European corporations. ACTA-like or not, Canadians shouldn’t be forced to pay Veolia Environment and Suez for water because of this trade agreement and big pharma shouldn’t be able to profit from suffering by extending patent terms.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      I expect it to be at the same level of skullfuckery as any pre-SOPA, pre-ACTA attempt at a trade agreement – but I’m saying that at this point in time, it is wrong to say that CETA is “ACTA reborn”.

      That said, I’m sure it’s filled to the brim with stuff designed to benefit incumbents and screw entrepreneurs and citizens over.

  4. Calandrella

    I am very happy that you don’t just try to ride on the wave of attention net policy has got by pretending something is larger than (what you think) it is. It shows that although there have been sensationalist posts on this blog earlier, there seems to have been a development. I myself was not nuanced when hearing about CETA; so I’m also very happy that I hear this from you this early, so I won’t contribute to any irrational and (unintentionally) false-leading spread of information. 🙂

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  8. Björn Persson

    If the practice is that each new trade agreement replaces any earlier trade agreements between the involved countries, then copying ACTA verbatim into CETA would be the natural thing to do assuming that ACTA was a done deal and there was no intent to cancel it.

    If the practice is that multiple trade agreements can exist in parallel and complement each other, then I don’t understand why they would include ACTA in CETA. Both Canada and the EU were supposed to be parties to ACTA, so writing the same thing in another agreement between Canada and the EU would have been redundant.

    Either way, I’m sure CETA needs to be watched closely even if the text that was copied from ACTA gets removed.

  9. […] Partidului Piraţilor din Suedia, Rickard Falkvinge, a scris pe blogul său opinia proprie asupra CETA şi a îndemnat la calm, deoarece îngrijorările ar fi […]

  10. deus exMachina

    Really does it matter when it was written? It still has a chance to pass if we don’t sound of alarms prematurely. We cannot trust that the same EU who rejected ACTA will do the same thing in this case. And in my opinion CETA and ACTA are the same thing. They are both trade agreements with serious consequences for the citizens of the EU and NA.

    Set privacy issues aside Canadians should be outraged that their water is being privatized, for one, and to the EU?! Did we not learn from Buenos Aires, Argentina; Manila, Philippines; or El Alto, Bolivia? We really do need to sound the alarm, loudly and as soon as we can. These back door deals are trying to get pushed through without the people knowing.

  11. MH

    I agree, CETA is not an ACTA revival — it’s a backup plan.

    “The timeline doesn’t support it” is a weak argument, considering the writing was on the wall ‘way back’ in December. With the strong opposition to SOPA it just makes sense copyright lobbyists would hedge their bets and diversify.

    While there’s certainly something to be said about sensationalist reporting and flashy titles, the fact remains that CETA is, pardon my french, very much same shit, different package. So I object to your title “Alarm over CETA appears premature,” as it certainly does not. If CETA is a trade agreement that tries to add copyright clauses in, then it must be stomped to the ground as quickly as possible. Right now there’s a growing anti-Hollywood wave that must be ridden on, forcing the USTR and other such institutions to accept humanitarian and privacy concerns.

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  13. Webster

    The gut reaction show how little faith we have in “our” scumfuck politicians, and should be a wake upp call for all people. We cannot trust them. We must replace them, as soon as possible, with new leaders who are not in some industry pocket. This process must start immediately, because new skullfuckery will be forthcoming if we let them keep their jobs.

  14. […] De farliga förslagen är inte borta för evigt. Kanske CETA kommer att bli det nya ACTA, kanske inte. Oavsett vilket kommer det komma auktoritära förslag igen. Vi måste kämpa igen. Vi måste […]

  15. jimbo

    i must admit that when i read about CETA, i immediately thought the worst. what convinced me that there was indeed some ‘skullfuckery’ going on was when i also read that Lamar Smith in the USA, the proposer of SOPA, was trying to do similar, ie, getting the worst bits of that defeated bill re-introduced a bit at a time. unless there is a means of saying ‘that has already been tried and failed, it must not be introduced again under any disguise or new/different name, the entertainment industries will just keep on going for it. sooner or later, being vigilant will not be enough to stop them. governments everywhere are ignoring EU ‘rules’ and putting into law things that are of benefit only to the industries, leaving the people extremely vulnerable and holding the short straw!

  16. Trouble

    Thanks much for your POV Rick, but the EC is capable of anything.

    Watching and waiting, finger ready to dial MEPs.

  17. Calandrella

    A new attack on civil rights has been launched in Sweden! OK, it’s not ACTA level, but it’s bad, since it’s about the Swedish government getting to create a register of innocent citizens in the purpouse of political research, including information about people’s ethnicity and membership in trade unions. So if you think it’s as bad as I think it is (which I think you think 😉 ), please sign and spread the petition at Avaaz!

  18. […] Geist har skrivit om de stora likheterna mellan en läckt draft av CETA och ACTA med bland annat kommentaren “The EU has also proposed incorporating […]

  19. […] if the human cost short-term is lower – and the Commission is quite smart and suave, so I doubted they would bet any further prestige in getting intellectual property rights override civil […]

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