posted by Arend Lammertink on Mon 21st Jun 2004 21:39 UTC
IconThe battle about Software Patents in Europe seemed as good as lost. The Council of Ministers voted for a directive that basically slapped the European Parliament in the face because they shamelessly put aside a democratic decision taken by the European Parliament. And even though the Parliament still has a second reading where it will have to go trough a lot of trouble to repair the damage done by the Council, it is a serious matter that the Council of Ministers seems to have no idea how sloppy their directive is. It does allow general, broad softwarepatents, practically without restrictions even though several explanations by the Ministers say they don't.

They have now shown (twice in one week!) that they have no respect for the democratic opinion of the European Parliament, which in itself is bad enough.

Seemed as good as lost. But it ain't over yet. We've played our cards (and luck!) quite nicely here in The Netherlands (if I may say so myself) and at this moment the Dutch Parliament is actually considering to revoke the vote Minister Brinkhorst gave at the Council. This has never happened before in the history of the European Union!

Did we miss something?

The ball started rolling because I knew a member of the Dutch Parliament, Annie Schrijer, who turned out to be vice-chairman of the Committee for Economic affairs in the Dutch Parliament. After the demonstration on Friday the 14th of May at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, I talked to some of the representatives of the FFII and vrijschrift.org and I told them I knew Mrs. Schrijer and could be able to contact her. Since we thought it might help, I decided to call her.

She lives just a few kilometers from where I live (which is close even in our little country), so it could happen that I went over to her place the next Saturday and was able to tell her the whole story. Fortunately she had had patent issues in her dossier before, so it didn't take long for her to understand exactly what was going on. Even though she could not do much herself directly, she told me how I could try to hand over an urgent petition to the Dutch Parliament on Tuesday May 18th, the day the Ministers were to vote in the Council. That always seems to "shake the bed" as she put it. Well, I could not have imagined how right she was. First of all, we offered the petition to the right persons this time. Previously, we had offered it to the civil servants who wrote the letters on behalf of the Minister that later turned out to contain critical errors... Of course, these guys were not very interested in "shaking the bed". They were more interested in getting this over as quickly and quietly as possible.

But, there we were.

Petition

Tuesday, the 18th of May. Just 5 geeks disguised as businessmen standing eye to eye with the Commission for Economic Affairs of the Dutch Parliament.

What happens in such a case is that you are allowed to say your thing for about 5 minutes. After that, it's usually "thanks" and off you go.

This time, there was just a little tiny extra detail. Annie had done her homework and she had noticed that there was an error in the letter the Minister had sent to the Parliament prior to the vote in the Council, explaining that there was "agreement" between the European Parliament and the Council, which had been understood by the Dutch Parliament as saying "don't worry, everything is arranged and in order". By that time, it was already clear that the Dutch members of the European Parliament were not exactly speaking about an "agreement". Oops.

Misinformed

So, we had our hands on a classical case of what's called "onjuiste informatie" in Dutch: "incorrect information" to the Parliament by a responsible politician. Not uncommonly this results in the forced resignation of that politician. Clearly this is something the opposition is always interested in. In the Netherlands, like everywhere else, the opposition has the important task of being the guarding dog of the Parliament. We just needed to wake it up.

So, Annie whispered something into their ears that I was unable to hear. However, we would soon find out the guarding dog had been wakened. What happened was that a letter was sent to the Minister where he was asked to explain the situation. Unfortunately, we don't have a copy of this letter, but the answer of the Minister is available on the official website of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs (in Dutch). (Exercise for the reader: Who actually wrote it?)

Of course, we had some remarks (also in Dutch), co-authored by mr.ir. R.B.Bakels[1]. For those of you that don't understand Dutch, the letter, contains just the standard arguments copycatted from the European Commission, but no answer to the question "was there or was there not an agreement between the European Parliament and the Council?".

The Council's idea of democracy

What might be interesting at this point is to take a look at the transcriptions of the debate at the Council of Ministers. Especially the last part of the second transcription shows an interesting insight into democracy as practiced by the Council of Ministers. Audio recordings are also available.

Another example of how high the Council and the Commission value democracy is shown by the way Eurocommissioner Bolkestein openly threatened the European Parliament. As Brian Kahin[4] puts it:

"On September 24, the European Parliament passed the Directive on the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions proposed by the European Commission, but not before passing a large number of amendments. Some members of parliament remarked that they had never before endured lobbying as intensive as that preceding the vote. Frits Bolkestein, European Commissioner for Internal Market, warned that failure to adopt the Commission's version would result in intergovernmental action that bypassed the Parliament. Taking up the challenge to its relevance, the Parliament voted dozens of amendments, producing a Directive that would drastically curtail the reach of software patents."

It is remarkable that a prominent member of the VVD, the "people's party for liberty and democracy" that has traditionally enjoyed the support of so many SMEs, seems to leave an important part of his backbenchers standing in the cold in favor of a few big, mostly non-European, multinationals.

Table of contents
  1. "Dutch and Patents, Page 1/4"
  2. "Dutch and Patents, Page 2/4"
  3. "Dutch and Patents, Page 3/4"
  4. "Dutch and Patents, Page 4/4"
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