French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has lost immunity from prosecution after she tweeted pictures of ISIS violence.
Her position as a member of the European Parliament has so far meant she could not be prosecuted.
Marine Le Pen is under investigation in France for posting three images of ISIS killings in 2015, including the beheading of American journalist James Foley.
She is currently running to be French president.
Opinion polls suggest Marine Le Pen is on course to win the first round in April, but centrist Emmanuel Macron is gaining ground and looks likely to beat her in a second round in May.
A Le Figaro/LCI poll on February 26 put Emmanuel Macron – who was unveiling his manifesto at the same time as it was revealed Marine Le Pen had lost her immunity – on 58% in the run-off, against 42% for Le Pen.
The European Parliament vote – carried by a “big majority”, according to acting parliament speaker Dimitrios Papadimoulis – confirmed a preliminary decision taken on February 28 by the legal affairs committee of the European Union legislature.
Marine Le Pen had dismissed efforts to lift her immunity as “part of the system that wants to stop the French people’s candidate that I am”.
The allegations date back to December 2015, when she tweeted the pictures in response to a journalist who drew an analogy between her anti-immigration Front National (FN) party and ISIS extremists.
James Foley’s parents accused Marine Le Pen of using the image of their son for her own political ends.
However, the vote only lifts Marine Le Pen’s immunity in this particular case and will not cover a separate investigation into whether the FN misused European Parliament funds.
Marine Le Pen has refused to attend a police interview over the latter allegations. She denies wrongdoing and claims that they are a plot to derail her campaign.
France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen missed a European Parliament deadline to return more than 300,000 euros ($321,000) it says she has misspent.
Marine Le Pen had until midnight to repay the money, but said she had no intention of doing so.
According to the European Parliament, the French presidential candidate wrongly used the funds to pay an aide at the National Front’s headquarters in Paris.
Marine Le Pen says she is the victim of a politically motivated vendetta.
If she does not repay the money, the parliament could now respond by withholding as much as half of her salary and allowances, which her opponents say total almost €11,000 a month.
Marine Le Pen is one of the front-runners in the French presidential election to be held in April and May. If she wins, she has promised a Brexit-style referendum on France’s membership of the EU.
Polls suggest that Marine Le Pen will make it to the run-off where she is likely to face conservative candidate Francois Fillon or centrist Emmanuel Macron.
“I will not submit to the persecution, a unilateral decision taken by political opponents… without proof and without waiting for a judgement from the court action I have started,” she told Reuters on January 31.
The money the European Parliament wants returned was used to pay the salary of Catherine Griset, a close friend of Marine Le Pen as well as her cabinet director.
The funds were conditional on Catherine Griset spending most of her working time in Brussels or Strasbourg.
However, the parliament says most of Catherine Griset’s time was instead spent working in the National Front’s headquarters in Paris. The party will face a second demand for 41,554 euros in wages paid to her bodyguard.
Marine Le Pen also tried to distance herself from financial allegations overshadowing Republican candidate Francois Fillon, who has vigorously denied that his wife was paid 834,000 euros for fake jobs.
Asked if she would pay back the money, the far-right leader told AFP: “To pay the money back, I’d have had to have received the funds, but my name isn’t Francois Fillon.”
Quite apart from her refusal to pay back the funds, Marine Le Pen might struggle to find the money. Her party has been unable to raise funds from French banks and has had to seek financing abroad.
In 2014, the FN received a €9 million loan from Russian lender First Czech-Russian Bank, which collapsed in 2016.
In a “state of the union” annual address in front of the European Parliament, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has announced plans that offer a “swift, determined and comprehensive” response to Europe’s migrant crisis.
Under the proposals, 120,000 additional asylum seekers will be distributed among EU countries, with binding quotas.
It comes after a surge of thousands of mainly Syrian migrants pushed north through Europe in recent days.
Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament it was “not a time to take fright”.
He was heckled by UK anti-European Union politician Nigel Farage, but dismissed his comments as “worthless”.
Germany, the main destination for many migrants, supports quotas, but some EU countries oppose a compulsory system.
Hungary – a key point on a migrant route – has been warned to expect an additional 40,000 migrants by the end of next week.
In a separate development Australia, which has been under pressure to do more to help displaced people, has announced plans to take in more Syrian refugees.
The Australian government said it would accept 12,000 Syrian refugees from persecuted minorities.
During his address, Jean-Claude Juncker outlined the priorities of the European Commission.
He opened his speech by admitting the European Union was “not in a good situation… There is a lack of Europe in this union, and a lack of union in this union”.
He said tackling the crisis was “a matter of humanity and human dignity”.
“It is true that Europe cannot house all the misery in the world. But we have to put it into perspective.
“This still represents just 0.11% of the EU population. In Lebanon refugees represent 25% of the population, which has just a fifth of the wealth of the EU. Who are we to never make such comparisons?”
Among Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposals:
EU member states to accept their share of an additional 120,000 refugees, building upon proposed quotas to relocate 40,000 refugees which were set out in May (though governments then only actually agreed to take 32,000)
A permanent relocation system to “deal with crisis situations more swiftly in the future”
Commission to propose list of “safe countries” to which migrants would generally have to return
Efforts to strengthen the EU’s common asylum system
A review of the so-called Dublin system, which states that people must claim asylum in the state where they first enter the EU
Better management of external borders and better legal channels for migration
“It’s 160,000 refugees in total that Europeans have to take into their arms and I really hope that this time everyone will be on board – no rhetoric, action is what is needed,” Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament.
The proposals will be discussed by EU home affairs ministers on September 14 in Brussels.
The new plans would relocate 60% of those now in Italy, Greece and Hungary to Germany, France and Spain.
The numbers distributed to each country would depend on GDP, population, unemployment rate and asylum applications already processed.
Countries refusing to take in migrants could face financial penalties.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Romania have opposed the idea of mandatory quotas.
On September 8, though, Poland appeared to soften its position. PM Ewa Kopacz said Poland would accept more migrants than the 2,000 it first offered to take.
Germany has welcomed Syrian migrants, waiving EU rules and saying it expects to deal with 800,000 asylum seekers this year alone – though not all will qualify as refugees and some will be sent back.
The mass migration has seen those seeking an end to persecution, conflict and hardship travel by boat, bus, train and on foot, from Turkey, across the sea to Greece, through Macedonia and Serbia, and then to Hungary from where they aim to reach Austria, Germany and Sweden.
Pope Francis is visiting Strasbourg where he will address the European Parliament and Council of Europe on social and economic issues.
The Pope is expected to speak about anti-immigration sentiment and unemployment during his four-hour trip.
Many of Strasbourg’s Catholics are upset that he will not meet them or visit the city’s cathedral.
Some Catholics have accused the Pope of neglecting Europe since his election in 2013.
Pope Francis visited the Italian island of Lampedusa in July 2013 to meet and pray for illegal immigrants, and went to Albania in September. The Pope has said that he is planning a second visit to France in 2015.
Residents of Strasbourg have been told they can watch both of the pontiff’s speeches on a giant screen that will be installed inside the cathedral, which is celebrating its millennial anniversary.
Pope Francis is making the second papal visit to Strasbourg after Pope John Paul II visited the city in 1988.
Pope John Paul II addressed the European parliament where he was heckled by Northern Irish MEP the Rev Ian Paisley.
During his speech the late Pope called Europe “a beacon of civilization”.
However, Pope Francis has called Europe a “tired” continent which worships the “idol of money”.
In Strasbourg, Pope Francis is expected to call for greater tolerance and inclusion in response to the success nationalist parties have seen in parts of Europe.
In May, several of these parties performed strongly in the European parliamentary elections.
Pope Francis is also thought likely to address Europe’s ongoing economic crisis and the social problems that it has created.
Martin Schulz, the head of the European Parliament, has demanded “full clarification” from the US over a report that key EU premises in America have been bugged.
Martin Schulz said that if this was true, it would have a “severe impact” on ties between the EU and the US.
The report, carried by Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, cites a secret 2010 document alleging that the US spied on EU offices in New York and Washington.
Fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked the paper, Der Spiegel says.
Edward Snowden – a former contractor for the CIA and also the National Security Agency (NSA) – has since requested asylum in Ecuador.
According to the document – which Der Spiegel says comes from the NSA – the agency spied on EU internal computer networks in Washington and at the 27-member bloc’s UN office in New York.
The document also allegedly referring to the EU as a “target”.
It is not known what information US spies might have got, but details of European positions on to trade and military matters would have been useful to those involved in negotiations between Washington and European governments.
In a statement on Saturday, Martin Shultz said: “On behalf of the European Parliament, I demand full clarification and require further information speedily from the US authorities with regard to these allegations.”
The European Parliament has demanded full clarification from the US over a report that key EU premises in America have been bugged
Der Spiegel also quotes Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn as saying: “If these reports are true, it’s disgusting. The United States would be better off monitoring its secret services rather than its allies.”
The US government has so far made no public comments on the Spiegel’s report.
Edward Snowden is believed to be currently staying at Moscow’s airport. He arrived there last weekend from Hong Kong, where he had been staying since he revealed details of top secret US surveillance programmes.
The US has charged him with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence.
Each charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
On Saturday, US Vice-President Joe Biden and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa held a telephone conversation about Edward Snowden’s asylum request.
According to Rafael Correa, Joe Biden had “passed on a polite request from the United States to reject the request”.
The left-wing Ecuadorian leader said his answer was: “Mr. vice-president, thanks for calling. We hold the United States in high regard. We did not seek to be in this situation.”
If Edward Snowden ever came to “Ecuadoran soil” with his request, he added, “the first people whose opinion we will seek is that of the United States”.
Quito earlier said it was willing to consider Edward Snowden’s request but only when he was physically in the Latin American country.
Meanwhile, White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said only that Joe Biden and Rafael Correa had held a wide-ranging conversation.
British PM David Cameron says he will not accept an European Union budget deal unless further cuts are made in negotiations in Brussels.
EU leaders are gathering for a two-day summit to try to strike a seven-year spending deal, after a previous meeting in November failed.
But David Cameron said the figures being proposed “need to come down. And if they don’t… there won’t be a deal”.
The European Commission head called for “a spirit of responsibility” in talks.
Jose Manuel Barroso said: “Further delays will send out a very negative message at this time of fragile economic recovery. The risk is that positions will harden and will be even more difficult to overcome.”
The formal meeting has been delayed by several hours, apparently to allow more time for discussions on a compromise.
David Cameron has met his counterparts from Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden – leaders who are potential allies in the tough negotiations.
High EU expenditure at a time of cutbacks and austerity across the continent is the main issue dividing the 27 member states.
The Commission – the EU’s executive body – had originally wanted a budget ceiling of 1.025 trillion euros ($1.4 trillion) for 2014-2020, a 5% increase. In November that ceiling was trimmed back to 973 billion euros, equivalent to 943 billion euros in actual payments.
But with other EU spending commitments included, that would still give an overall budget of 1.011tn euros.
British PM David Cameron says he will not accept an European Union budget deal unless further cuts are made in negotiations in Brussels
The UK, Germany and other northern European nations want to lower EU spending to mirror the cuts being made by national governments across the Continent.
An EU source says any extra cut would probably be made to growth-related spending in areas such as energy, transport, the digital economy and research.
The biggest spending areas – agriculture and regional development – are largely ring-fenced because of strong national interests, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Whatever is agreed has still to go to the European Parliament, and MEPs are big backers of EU spending.
Scheduled to begin at noon on Thursday, the summit has been put back to 19:30. “We needed more time to work on the compromise proposal,” an unnamed EU official told AFP news agency.
A grouping led by France and Italy wants to maintain spending but target it more at investment likely to create jobs.
The split in the EU reflects the gap between richer European countries and those that rely most on EU funding.
The argument for higher spending is supported by many countries that are net beneficiaries, including Poland, Hungary and Spain.
Others, mostly the big net contributors, argue it is unacceptable at a time of austerity.
Germany, the UK, France and Italy are the biggest net contributors to the budget, which amounts to about 1% of the EU’s overall GDP.
Analysts say failure to reach an agreement on its seven-year budget would mean the EU falling back on more expensive annual budgets.
Former Austrian Interior Minister and Euro MP Ernst Strasser has been sentenced to four years in jail after being convicted of bribe-taking.
The conservative Austrian People’s Party MP was exposed by reporters from the UK’s Sunday Times, who secretly filmed him while posing as lobbyists.
They showed him being offered a 100,000-euro ($130,000) annual payment in exchange for influencing EU legislation in the European Parliament.
Ernst Strasser, 56, denied any wrongdoing.
He said he had resigned to protect his party.
He said he had guessed that the “lobbyists” were fake, but had played along with the ruse in order to find out what was actually motivating the pair, who dined with him before the Sunday Times expose in March 2011.
Former Austrian Interior Minister and Euro MP Ernst Strasser has been sentenced to four years in jail after being convicted of bribe-taking
Presiding Judge Georg Olschak said he did not believe Ernst Strasser’s defence that he thought the journalists were US secret agents whom the politician had wanted to expose.
“That is probably one of the most outlandish things I have heard in my 20-year career,” said Judge Georg Olschak.
“You won’t find a single court in Austria to believe that argument.”
The judge told Ernst Strasser few people had damaged Austria’s reputation as much as he had.
Alexandra Maruna, for the prosecution, said Ernst Strasser had “massively harmed European politics” and deserved to be punished for abusing confidence in elected officials.
One of four MEPs caught up in a “cash-for-laws” scandal in 2011, he plans to appeal against the verdict.
Ernst Strasser served as Austrian interior minister from 2000 to 2004 and in the European Parliament from 2009 to 2011.
EU talks about 2013 budget have collapsed, after negotiators from the EU and member states were unable to agree on extra funding for 2012.
The EU Commission and European Parliament had asked for a budget rise of 6.8% in 2013.
But most governments wanted to limit the rise to just 2.8%.
The failure of the talks will dent hopes of agreement on the 2014-2020 budget, which is up for discussion later this month, correspondents say.
Friday’s dispute was over an extra 9 billion euros ($12 billion) in “emergency funding” for 2012, to cover budgets for education, infrastructure and research projects.
But Germany, France and other governments questioned the funding, and eight hours of talks produced no agreement.
“Under these conditions, we felt that negotiations which hadn’t really begun by six o’clock in the evening couldn’t reasonably be expected to finish during the night,” said the parliament’s lead negotiator, Alain Lamassoure.
At the European parliament, UK Conservative MEPs clashed with Parliament President Martin Schulz, a German Social Democrat, over the extra 9 billion euros shortfall for 2012.
In 2012 the budget was 129.1 billion euros, a 1.9% increase on 2011.
Among the schemes facing a shortfall this year is the Erasmus student exchange programme.
It has allowed nearly three million young Europeans to study abroad since it was launched 25 years ago.
In an open letter to EU leaders on Friday more than 100 famous Europeans, including film directors and footballers, warned that “thousands could miss out on a potentially life-changing experience”.
Friday’s talks did produce a declaration of political will to provide 670 million euros to earthquake victims in Italy, but no agreement on how to finance it, the European Parliament said.
It said that if no agreement on the 2013 budget could be reached in the next 21 days, the European Commission would look to revise its budget proposal.
The UK’s Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Greg Clark, said the EU needed to practice “fiscal discipline”.
“The UK and a number of other countries were very clear from the outset that the Commission and the European Parliament should not be asking taxpayers for billions of extra euros when the spending in member states is being reduced,” he said.
The UK government, led by the Conservatives, has also objected to a proposed increase in the multi-year budget for 2014-2020, threatening a veto if necessary.
An EU summit aimed at reaching a deal on that budget will be held on 22-23 November.
The European Parliament has rejected the 27 EU governments’ position on next year’s EU budget, triggering hard bargaining to reach a deal.
In a vote in Strasbourg the MEPs backed the European Commission’s call for a 6.8% budget rise for 2013.
A MEPs’ report deplored a decision by the Council – the 27 governments – to cut that figure to 2.79%.
The MEPs also adopted proposals on the 2014-2020 budget, ahead of a key leaders’ summit next month.
The Commission, however, argues that the cuts proposed by the Council would harm Europe’s growth efforts, hitting research and small firms.
In 2012 the EU budget was 129.1 billion euros ($168.5 billion), a 1.9% increase on 2011.
The Commission says 2013 is the last year of the EU’s current seven-year financial period – the time when bills for existing projects have to be paid, hence the need for a budget increase.
The Commission’s proposal for the long-term budget, called the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), sets the ceiling at just over one trillion euros, that is, 1.03% of EU gross national income (GNI).
The biggest items of spending, accounting for about 80% in total, are agriculture and cohesion funds – aid for Europe’s poorer regions. France is especially keen to maintain agriculture spending, while cohesion is a big issue for the ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe.
The European Parliament’s budget committee calls for spending levels for those major budget items to be at least maintained at the 2007-2013 level.
But the MEPs also call for “significant increases” in the budgets for competitiveness, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), sustainable infrastructure and research and innovation. They see those budget areas as growth-enhancing.
The parliament’s lead negotiators in the 2014-2020 budget talks are Ivailo Kalfin, a Bulgarian from the Social Democrat group (S&D) and Reimer Boege, a German from the conservative European People’s Party (EPP).
The MEPs’ plan includes a controversial call for EU “own resources” – that is, to fund the EU from direct taxation, such as sales tax (VAT), instead of the current system of national contributions.
The MEPs’ report says the current system polarizes the EU into “two opposing camps” – the net contributor countries on the one hand, and the net beneficiary countries on the other.
The report says the EU budget financing “should return to a genuine system of own resources, as provided for in the Treaty of Rome and all successive EU treaties”. It calls the system of national contributions “non-transparent and unfair” and “not subject to parliamentary control at either European or national level”.
The controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is back under scrutiny as the European Parliament prepares to carry out a series of key votes.
ACTA seeks to curb the spread of illegally downloaded copyrighted material online.
However, critics say it is a potential threat to freedom of speech online.
To date 22 member states have signed the treaty – but it is yet to be formally ratified by the EU.
The Committee on Legal Affairs (Juri), Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) and the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) will each vote on the crucial concerns surrounding the proposals.
While the agreement covers the counterfeiting of physical items, such as pharmaceuticals, it is the measures relating to pirated material on the internet that have caused most concern among campaigners.
The agreement suggests setting international standards over how copyright infringements are dealt with. Preventive measures include possible imprisonment and fines.
The three committees will issue judgements on the possible impact of the treaty on the trading rights of the European Union; the human rights impact on citizens, and the possible effects on related industries.
The controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is back under scrutiny as the European Parliament prepares to carry out a series of key votes
The outcomes will influence the decision of the International Trade Committee (INTA) which will vote on 20-21 June to determine the formal recommendation on ACTA to the European Parliament. INTA’s appointed rapporteur on ACTA, David Martin, has strongly condemned the treaty.
In April, David Martin said: “The intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties.”
Rapporteurs advising LIBE and ITRE have also recommended rejecting the treaty, concurring with David Martin’s comments.
However, Marielle Gallo, who has advised Juri, has said she is not against the agreement.
The INTA vote will heavily influence the final decision on ACTA by the European Parliament. This vote is expected to take place on 2 July.
If it passes, the agreement will then come into force across the EU. If rejected, ACTA will be scrapped entirely.
The treaty has provoked discontent across the world since an initial draft was released by Wikileaks in 2008.
Open-rights campaigners argued the measures were being debated in secret.
Across Europe thousands of protesters demonstrated to voice their objections to the agreement.
The treaty’s backers have said it would not alter existing laws, and would instead provide protection for content creators in the face of increasing levels of online piracy.
Nevertheless, the proposals have encountered a slew of objections.
In February, the European Commission referred the matter to the European Court of Justice to judge on whether ACTA complied with human-rights laws.
This process was expected to delay ratification proceedings, but members of INTA voted to go ahead with pre-planned timetable.
Euro MP Kader Arif, who resigned from his post as rapporteur for ACTA in January, said he did so in protest at the “masquerade” of negotiations.
Meanwhile, several countries distanced themselves from the agreement, including Germany and Poland, where large protests took place.
Most recently, lawmakers in the Netherlands urged rejection of the treaty over fears that it breached the country’s constitution.
The UK, which signed the treaty in January, said it still backed ACTA.
Outside the EU, the treaty also has the support of the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea.
European Parliament has passed regulations to make using a mobile phone abroad significantly cheaper.
The plans, which were voted in by a huge majority, include imposing a price cap on operators.
From July, using mobile data in Europe will not cost more than 70 eurocents per megabyte – far less than current rates.
Consumers will also be able to choose a different operator abroad from the one they use at home.
It is hoped this split-network approach – which comes into force in 2014 – will encourage greater competition.
The first changes will come into effect from 1 July. Calls will be capped at 29 eurocents per minute, plus VAT.
European Parliament has passed regulations to make using a mobile phone abroad significantly cheaper
The EU said the regulations were designed to prevent “bill shock” – the moment when travelers discover they have totted up huge bills after making calls and using data applications, such as maps, while away.
“In a borderless Europe, there is no place for charges that diverge so much at home and abroad,” said MEP Ivo Belet.
The EU said the changes could mean savings for a “typical” businessman of more than 1,000 Euros in a year.
The EU said that from 2014 customers would be able to choose their mobile networks upon arrival in a country, or signing up to a contract before leaving.
Currently, mobile users are forced to use their standard domestic operator when travelling abroad – or to use alternative arrangements, such as a cheap pre-paid handset.
Under the new regulations, customers can choose a different operator with a more attractive travel tariff before leaving – without changing their number.
Euro MP David Martin has said the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) should be rejected by the European Parliament.
David Martin, the British MEP responsible for its report on ACTA, said the treaty threatened civil liberties.
His comments came less than three months after the previous rapporteur, Kader Arif, resigned from his post in protest at the plans.
To date, 22 EU member states have signed the agreement.
However, the treaty will need to be ratified by the European Parliament before it can be enacted.
David Martin has strongly advised that this ratification should not happen.
“The intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties,” he said in a written recommendation to the European Parliament.
“Given the vagueness of certain aspects of the text and the uncertainty over its interpretation, the European Parliament cannot guarantee adequate protection for citizens’ rights in the future under ACTA.”
Euro MP David Martin said ACTA should be rejected by the European Parliament
An early discussion paper for ACTA was made public by Wikileaks in 2008, and the treaty has caused considerable controversy since.
Earlier this year, thousands of protesters demonstrated in cities including Berlin and Warsaw to share their objection to the agreement, which critics say will stifle freedom on the internet.
The “real world” action was in addition to several co-ordinated online attacks on the websites of various governments across Europe.
Concern over the treaty was heightened further when the European Commission asked the European Court of Justice to rule on its legality. The decision is still pending.
Kader Arif, who resigned as the EU’s rapporteur for ACTA on 27 January, described the negotiations as a “masquerade”.
He said: “I condemn the whole process which led to the signature of this agreement: no consultation of the civil society, lack of transparency since the beginning of negotiations, repeated delays of the signature of the text without any explanation given, reject of Parliament’s recommendations as given in several resolutions of our assembly.”
Despite these concerns, the agreement has been backed by the majority of EU member states.
A debate on the EU’s adoption of ACTA is expected to take place in June.
The EU’s highest court has been asked to rule on the legality of ACTA, the controversial anti-piracy agreement.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has been criticized by rights campaigners who argue it could stifle free expression on the internet.
European Union trade head Karel De Gucht said the court will be asked to clarify whether the treaty complied with “the EU’s fundamental rights and freedoms”.
The agreement has so far been signed by 22 EU member states.
The European Commission said it “decided today to ask the European Court of Justice for a legal opinion to clarify that the ACTA agreement and its implementation must be fully compatible with freedom of expression and freedom of the internet”.
Several key countries, including Germany and Denmark, have backed away from the treaty amid protests in several European cities.
The EU's highest court has been asked to rule on the legality of ACTA
ACTA is set to be debated by the European Parliament in June.
While countries can individually ratify the terms of the agreement, EU backing is considered vital if the proposal’s aim of implementing consistent standards for copyright enforcement measures is met.
As well as the 22 European backers, the agreement has been signed by the United States, Japan and Canada.
Karel De Gucht told a news conference on Wednesday: “Let me be very clear: I share people’s concern for these fundamental freedoms… especially over the freedom of the internet.
“This debate must be based upon facts, and not upon the misinformation and rumour that has dominated social media sites and blogs in recent weeks.”
However, Karel de Gucht went on to say that the agreement’s purpose was to protect the creative economy.
“[ACTA] aims to raise global standards for intellectual property rights,” he said, adding that the treaty “will help protect jobs currently lost because counterfeited, pirated goods worth 200bn euros are currently floating around”.
ACTA’s backers face strong opposition within the EU. Viviane Reding, the commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, took to Twitter to outline her worries on the treaty.
“For me, blocking the Internet is never an option,” she wrote in a statement.
“We need to find new, more modern and more effective ways in Europe to protect artistic creations that take account of technological developments and the freedoms of the internet.”
What is ACTA?
• The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is an international treaty aiming to standardize copyright protection measures.
• It seeks to curb trade of counterfeited physical goods, including copyrighted material online.
• Preventative measures include possible imprisonment and fines.
• Critics argue that it will stifle freedom of expression on the internet, and it has been likened to the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
• ACTA has been signed by 22 EU members, but is yet to be ratified by the European Parliament.