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European Democracy’s Victory in a Treaty’s Defeat

STRASBOURG – In an era when effective global cooperation seems to be in short supply, the failure to approve a major international treaty would hardly seem to be cause for celebration. But the European Parliament’s rejection of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a milestone for European democracy. Rarely has a debate on an international treaty been so intense and engaged so many people across Europe and beyond.

ACTA, negotiated by a group of industrialized countries to fight counterfeiting and enforce intellectual-property rights, provoked widespread criticism from civil-society organizations for the lack of transparency in the process used to formulate it. In the European Parliament, we tried to redress these shortcomings. Over the last four months, we held countless meetings, hearings, workshops, and online conversations with civil-society representatives and all of the concerned parties, to make sure that all opinions were properly heard.

The massive mobilization on this issue culminated in a petition addressed to the European Parliament signed by more than 2.8 million citizens. Their engagement shows that a truly European public opinion, transcending national borders, is alive and well. I personally have learned a lot from this thorough, open-minded, and respectful debate – and took part in it both online and off.

Digital communications technology has led more people than ever to participate in the public conversation about their common European future – and to realize that they can influence Europe’s politics directly. This two-way communication is vital for a multinational law-making institution like the European Parliament.