At an event yesterday at the European Parliament blind persons organizations expressed their frustration at the lack of progress toward EU ratification of the global right-to-read Treaty of Marrakesh.
The meeting was organized by the European Blind Union, the World Blind Union, Knowledge Ecology International-Europe and the Transatantic Consumer Dialogue under the sponsorship of MEPs Enrique Calvet (ALDE, Spain), Alessandra Morretti (S and D, Italy) and Max Andersson (Greens, Sweden). Other MEPs attending the meeting were Julia Reda (Greens-Germany), Patrick Durand (Greens-France) and Fernando Maura (ALDE-Spain).
Key leaders of European visually impaired persons were present such as the Italian secretary of the European Disability Forum, Rodolfo Cattani, Bernadette Otto of the Belgian Blind Persons Associations and Mokrane Boussaid, the executive director of the European Blind Union.
The respondent on the part of the European Commission was the head of the Copyright Unit Maria Martín Prat. Also participating in the meeting was Inmaculada Placencia, Deputy Head of the Disability Unit of DG Justice. As well, the incoming Latvian Presidency of the EU Council was present.
MEP Enrique Calvet opened the event by asserting the importance of defending the dignity of persons with disabilities and stating the priority of the European dimension of the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty above the nationalist demands of member states. The Royal National Institute for the Blind representative Dan Pescod explained how copyright acts as a barrier to exacerbate the book famine suffered by the visually impaired and stressed how the Marrakesh Treaty would allow the cross-border flow of books to millions of persons globally who lack access to cultural and educational materials. Wolfgang Angermann said that blind persons were about to lose their patience with an endless ratification process and that human rights should take precedence over quarrels on EU procedures and competence. Francisco Calvo from the Organización Nacional de Ciegos de España said that the Treaty was an important move toward creating an open single market in the EU for accessible formatted works.
Maria Martín Prat stated that the European Commission had a firm commitment for the swift ratification of the Treaty and has requested that the Council approves the ratification under exclusive EU competence. Nevertheless, according to Prat, many EU member states are very reluctant to concede the EU the power to sign the Treaty in name of the member states. She explained that at the last meeting of the Council on November 24th EU exclusive competence over the treaty was not accepted by most of the member states and many of them prefer ratification through “mixed” or “shared” competence. This would mean a long, torturous procedure in which all 28 separate national ratifications will be needed before the EU (national ratifications would not be valid until all the EU has ratified). In the words of Dan Pescod we shall have EU ratification “only when the slowest camel of the caravan crosses the line”. In this case it would at best be many years before we see the Treaty go into effect with the greater danger that even one EU member state could block the whole process.
A number of MEPs present have decided to take parliamentary initiatives, such as written and oral questions with a possible plenary resolution, in order to place pressure on the Council and member states to speed up the ratification process. A number of blind persons organizations will also promote parliamentary questions in national parliaments and meetings with relevant national ministries before the next meeting of the EU Council working group on this issue on January 29th, 2015.