[ The Democratic Challenge ]

A few weeks before the vote, Members of European Parliament (MEPs) received the following email : "Dear Members and Assistants. Yes its true ! If you go down to Place du Luxembourg from now until 3pm, you can collect your free ice cream and support the Computer Implemented Inventions Common Position ! Hope to see you soon." A perfect illustration of what the campaign in favor of the directive was about.. And of what European democracy should more generally endure, ie. a succession of doubtful practices to grab votes.

While software patents do not make sense, the main reason why the directive was rejected was actually not so much about the content, but about the manner the European Parliament was treated. Whereas a wonderful work had been done by MEPs to amend the directive in first reading, the Commission surreptitiously suppressed all amendments before passing the text to the Council. Unimaginable for anyone who has notion of what separation of powers is about.

To understand why the Commission acted so, it is important to remind its initial role, ie. guaranteeing the respect of E.U. legislation and initiating it. How are the texts written ? In fact, the Commission needs to consult experts and stakeholders before all.. Reason why the lobbying is so well established in its premises.

The Software Patents Directive was push by the European Patent Office (EPO) but also the most powerful companies in the place, gathered inside the "European Information and Communications Technology Industry Association" (EICTA), leaded by Microsoft - henceforth, "Digital Europe". Those ones are everywhere and we can say it, do influence our governments in their everyday work. Not surprising, as they control information systems, which is by the way one of the reason why it is vital to keep competition safe in this particular field - to safeguard the independence of governments.

Rejection of the directive would thus not have been possible without the unprecedented mobilisation of citizen around MEPs, mostly coordinated by the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) and supported by 1948 SMEs under the "Economic Majority" label. This made this vote the "most decisive majority vote in the history of the chamber" (Josep Borell, former EP President). In other words : the victory of citizen advocacy, transparent, spontaneous, on corporate lobbying, obscure and outdated.

It is important to note that whereas the EICTA campaign was heavily financed, the FFII had to count mainly on volunteers. "We weren't professional lobby workers", commented Alberto Barrionuevo, OPENTIA SL, in response to interview by FFII stagiair Pierre-Antoine Rousseau. "We were a lot of professionals in the subject matter, coming mainly from SMEs and Universities, concerned about our future and defending our rights and families. Almost no one of us got paid a salary for doing lobbying. We were 'small ones against big ones' - this sentence is what said an EPP MEP to a group of FFII members in one of our meetings".

The best image of the two camps was given on the eve of the d-day, while MEPs coming back from their lunch break looked down the river and saw a yacht hired by the pro-patents lobbyists, urging to "vote for the CII directive" ; in front of it, two canoes were placarding "software patents kill innovation".

What were the victory's ingredients then ? "Internet is the key", Alberto continued. "This is the first time that a lobbying campaign has taken the whole advantage of Internet to join a lot of small and dispersed actors all around Europe/world. Collaboration made possible thanks to Internet was a main key issue". For Florian Mueller, from No software Patent Initiative, "honesty and authenticity" also made the difference. "Politicians understand that the FFII consists of people who genuinely care about the issues they represent, as opposed to the mercenaries hired by the pro-software patent forces."

Andre Rebentish, from now General Secretary of FFII compares the later's advocacy with what he calls the "Artus principle : you leave the court to kill the dragon, you meet other for just another adventure or quest, and all heroes meet again at the Artus court. Many knights, improvised action, and there is always a little princess to liberate or a dragon to slaughter. That way you gain experience, team up with interesting people and are able to act very productively. FFII lobbyists are like hero knights in an Artus novel."

The whole campaign was then summarized by a simple message : refusing software patents would be for European Parliament affirming their democratic power towards the Commission and Council inelegant attempts to make them go through despite a clear positioning against in first reading. The yellow T-shirts branding "Power to Parliament - No software patents" became then a non equivocal symbol of resistance. Whereas they had been forbidden within the premises of the institution, several MEPs removed their shirt to wear them on once inside the hemicycle.

Then came the vote. A resounding victory for European Democracy.

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