BRUSSELS The European Union's executive said on Wednesday it would refer a disputed global agreement to tackle online piracy to the bloc's highest court to check whether it complies with EU fundamental rights.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which also aims to cut trademark theft, sparked protests across Europe this month over fears of online censorship and increased surveillance.
EU members Germany, Slovakia, Estonia, Cyprus and the Netherlands have refused to sign the agreement on the grounds that it endangered freedom of speech and privacy. Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Latvia have expressed concerns about the agreement's impact.
"This morning, my fellow commissioners have discussed and agreed in general with my proposal to refer the ACTA agreement to the European Court of Justice," EU trade chief Karel De Gucht said.
"We are planning to ask Europe's highest court to assess ACTA's compatibility with the EU's fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression and information or that of protection," he told a regular news briefing.
Among other measures, ACTA asks Internet providers to cooperate with national authorities to crackdown on online piracy.
Since talks on ACTA began in Geneva in June 2008, Internet lobbies and health campaigners have rallied against it, saying that overly strict controls of copyright would exclude people from the Internet and prevent developing countries from accessing generic medicines.
The European Commission on Wednesday stood by its decision to ratify ACTA, but said the plethora of complaints against the agreement prompted its decision to refer it to the European court.
"Intellectual property is Europe's main raw material, but the problem is that we currently struggle to protect it outside the European Union. This hurts our companies, destroys jobs and harms our economies," De Gucht said. "ACTA will not censor websites or shut them down."
(Reporting by Claire Davenport, editing by Charlie Dunmore and Sebastian Moffett.)
(This story clarifies ACTA role in the 6th paragraph.)