Is this how Europe works?

European Union: internal market. For an internal market, trade-related laws need to be harmonized. Council of ministers agrees to proposals (called directives) by the civil service of the E.U., the European Commission, which member states then fold into their national laws. The E.U. and its directives exist by the grace of the member states; if the council of ministers would pass directives willy-nilly, the member states would refuse to pass new laws based on those directives.

Is this how Europe works?

The past year and a half I have been following (and at times participated in) the process of changing copyright and patent laws in the E.U.

The council of ministers would like to allow patents on computer programs. This would be a harmonization, because some countries allow patents on computer programs, and others do not. Of course, the council of ministers could have moved the other direction and explicitely outlawed patents on “pure software”; that also would be harmonization. It did not, and one can only guess to the reason why. If I were still a journalist, I would “follow the money”.

In the Netherlands, one of the E.U.’s member states, parliament tried to make work easy for themselves by agreeing to the position of the European Parliament, whatever that might be. The responsible minister in turned tried to make it easier for parliament, by declaring that the EP agreed with the EC, which was an outright lie. The EP was and is against patents on computer programs.

After the minister had voted for software patents in the council of ministers, parliament was alerted that the minister had lied to them. In a volatile coalition, this might be enough for the fall of the government, but that’s not the case now. If elections were held in the Netherlands today, the ruling parties would all lose seats.

Dutch parliament accepted a motion though that said the minister had to change his yes-vote into an abstention. The minister interpreted that as doing nothing, because he had already voted. Apparently, he had all run out of vote on this issue.

For some reason, though, the proposal of the E.C. had to be run by the council of ministers again, this time as a formality. That means that a lot of issues are placed on the agenda, and when the meeting is over and no-one has specifically objected (I presume), the issues are passed.

The opposition in Dutch parliament tried to get a motion passed that the minister had to actually request the issue be taken off the agenda, which means it could not be treated as a formality. The nays had it, because it was an individual vote count, and not enough of the yes-voters showed up.

Yesterday, the same vote was held, and the ayes had it. For now, the vote is stalled so that the EP can restart the entire process again.

What have I learned so far?

  • You cannot trust a politician (I already knew this, but it never hurts to repeat this fundamental truth)
  • The E.U. is broken:
    • it is run by ministers instead of countries; the ministers do not always represent the countries (and seem to be quite candid about it too)
    • its power extends beyond the internal market, affecting lives the way it should not

But also:

  • Lobbying helps.

This proposal would have passed over a year ago if it had not been for the tremendous efforts by the FFII and Vrijschrift.

I believe that the damage to the E.U. would have been horrific. Already, the damage is huge; by stalling the banning of pure software patents, the E.U. has kept itself from becoming a safe haven for honest, talented, hard-working programmers from over the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.