Europolitics: WIPO Marrakesh Treaty: Long road to ratification

Campaigners hope that a year after signing, the member states blocking its ratification will back down
By Mari Eccles • 25 June 2015
Few would argue about the worthiness of the Marrakesh Treaty.

Signed by the EU in June 2014, it focuses on copyright exceptions to allow greater distribution of books in formats accessible to visually impaired citizens.

The treaty has cross-spectrum support: a debate calling for ratification at the European Parliament on 24 June was sponsored by members from the left, right and centre, while the President of the European Blind Union, Wolfgang Angermann, calls greater access to such material “a human rights issue”.

Why then, has the treaty not been ratified?

Blocking in Council
Although few publicly oppose the Marrakesh Treaty, seven EU states – three of which have been confirmed as Germany, Italy and the UK – have formed a minority block in the Council and rejected a compromise proposal drawn up under the Latvian Presidency on the conclusion of the treaty.

Four other member states are thought to have sided with them, with EU sources hinting that the Czech Republic and Hungary may be among them.

Sources say that while these member states may not oppose the substance, they are worried about the EU claiming more and more exclusive competence when it comes to international treaties, fearing that this could lead to a ‘slippery slope’.
Campaigner David Hammerstein of the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue, who moderated the event in Parliament, said their argument over EU competence has been refuted by legal experts.

He said: “It is a very sad commentary about the state of EU affairs if legally baseless competence excuses are used to punish blind persons. The blocking of the treaty is not at all about competence issues: it is about the politically blind incompetence and insensitivity of a few big member state bureaucrats.”
He believes the key to unblocking the dossier in Council is to gain the support of one big member state, such as Germany, whose influence could have a domino effect.

There is also momentum coming from MEP Julia Reda’s copyright report, which advocates swift ratification and which will be voted on in July’s plenary in the European Parliament.

Role of the Commission
The European Commission is also working behind the scenes to get things moving, with representatives from the cabinets of Commissioners Andrus Ansip and Günther Oettinger expressing confidence that ratification could go ahead under the Luxembourg Presidency, although EU sources believe it is too early to say whether the treaty will be prioritised in the coming months.

Speaking privately to Europolitics, disability campaigners say they fear the treaty could be swept aside as focus turns to the more attention-grabbing elements of the digital single market strategy, such as geo-blocking.
While the Commission is working on compromises it hopes will appeal to the remaining seven member states in an attempt to “unblock” the dossier in Council, it seems reluctant to go to the EU Court of Justice, a representative citing this as a last resort.

Campaigners also see this option as time-consuming, unlikely to conclude before 2017, but having waited one year since signing by the EU (and two years for some member states), this route – likely to conclude in the result they want – is becoming more attractive.

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