"Ministers of Agriculture, Please Click" -- Netaction for Parliamentary Democracy in the EU
As the Council is preparing to let its agriculture or environment ministries adopt a software patent directive text for which no qualified majority exists, the Internet community is mobilising to defend parliamentary democracy in the EU. The Dutch Presidency's maneuvering in the European Council is seen not only as an attempt to push through an extremely harmful directive text but also as a violation of procedural rules of the EU Council and a critical test case for democracy in the EU.
Latest News & Chronology
2004-12-20 DE Spiegel.de (German newsmagazine) report on council chaos
2004-12-20 EU Euro-Greens Demand Restart of Software Patent Debate in Council (-> Netaction)
Means of Resistance
Demonstrations against software patents in April 2004 and August 2003 mobilised thousands of websites. On 14th of April 2004, 500-1000 of programmers from all over Europe marched through the streets of Brussels wearing yellow T-Shirts with the slogans "No Software Patents" and "Power to the Parliament".
This time the protest is starting with an attempt to reach the attention of the Agricultural ministers.
Website operators are asked to cover their websites with a page that calls on the national Agriculture Minister to ask that the software patent directive should be taken off the Council's agenda.
Instructions for participation in the webdemo can be found at
A list of participants in the internationalised version of the demo can be found at
Especially in Germany the netdemo has already made some headway
A list of german participants is found at
More localised versions of this Netaction are being created and made accessible at
The Mayor of the City of Munich said on 20 Dec 2004:
I do not understand the hasty way to rush this through the council. After a lot of concerns uttered from politics, SMEs and open-source developers a new round of discussion in the EU council was to be expected an not a nodding through in the unrelated Agriculture and Fisheries council. This morning I also communicated these expectations to Minister Künast.
The EU Council Rules of Procedure provide for a two-stage decision process.
Member States can find "political agreement" on a position in one Council meeting and then "formally adopt" it as a so-called A-item at a later meeting.
The Rules of Procedure say in Article 3, Paragraph 8 that any Member State can force a vote at the later meeting.
However, the enemies of democracy running the Council now seem to think that there is an unwritten rule that prevents Member States from actually doing that if they are opposed to a proposal at the time of the later meeting.
This is clearly the exact opposite of what the text of the Rules of Procedure says.
And if that position was true, there would be no point in having any "formal adoption" in a later meeting in the first place. All "political agreements" would be final. That would mean a major shift in the whole construction of the Rules of Procedure.
For example, that would mean that in turn all safeguards against hastily adopted decisions no one has had a chance to read or discuss (like all requirements on translations or minimum time frames for agenda decisions) would need to be cleared at the earlier time of the "political agreement".
So this is a test case. Either Article 3 Paragraph 8 has some meaning or not. We will see in a couple of days what happens.
"The planned directive on software patents no longer has a majority in the Council. The political agreement of May is outdated, both because of the new voting weights stipulated by the Nice treaty and because of the changes of position in Poland, the Netherlands and Germany."
Jozef Halbersztadt works as a patent examiner at Polish Patent Office. The Polish Patent Office has resisted pressure from the European Patent Office to allow software patents and is one of the most fervent opponents of the Council's text, which it fears would plunge it into a quagmire of broad and trivial patents on abstract subject matter. Halbersztadt has watched the EU developments for many years and draws the following analogy to the Ukrainian presidential elections:
"We could see our fight in terms of the Ukrainian presidential election. Yanukovych was picked as a candidate by the current president, Kuchma, in return for guarantees to the president and his allies of immunity from prosecution for all his crimes, committed while in power, as well as protection of their assets gained through manipulated privatisation. The Ukrainian people were fed up and voted him down. And they were denied their victory by a group of crooks.
Our scenario is similar. We have won in the European Parliament. We are now denied victory by manipulation and irregularities in the Council. The Kuchmas of the EU don't like consultation with national parliaments, recounting in the Council or restarting in the EP, nor any other open approach to problems. The main difference is that they --- hopefully --- aren't considering deployment of troops and use of force."
Laura Creighton, software entrepreneur, venture capitalist and Vice President of FFII
"Before today it was possible for generous people to look charitably at this text as an example of a tragic mistake, not malice. But not with this last-minute maneuvering. Only the most committed opponent to the democratic process would believe that the proper response to the widespread consensus that there is something profoundly wrong with the Council's text, is to race it through with an A-item approval the week before Christmas in a Fisheries Council Meeting. The bad smell coming from Brussels has nothing to do with the fish."
Hartmut Pilch, president of FFII, remarks:
We have in recent years seen a long stream of shoddily written special interest legislation coming from Brussels, and we have witnessed the circumvention of national democracies and a progressive erosion of civil liberties. However, the behaviour of the Dutch and German governments in the current EU Council threatens to set a new, even more dangerous precedent.
The ultimate result of our campaign must be a verdict from the European Court of Justice or an act of law which clearly says that the Dutch Presidency's intepretation of the Council's rules of procedure is inadmissible. Without provisions for at least a bit of rationality and accountability in the procedures of the EU's supreme legislative organ, the future of democracy in the EU will look gloomier than ever before.