February 26, 2005

Learn Writing

There seems to be some criticism floating around against Poland’s opposition to waving through the „political agreement“ on software patents in Council.

That criticism says that Poland should observe „unwritten rules“ of the Council. The „gentlemen“ in the Council are used to agreeing on a text in one language and translating it later.

Well, my message to these „gentlemen“ is that they should consider learning writing, or maybe find someone who has that ability.

The Council is a bit too important to be run under a set of „unwritten“ rules that differ from those laid down in the rules of procedure.

Of course one could imagine a rule that said „political agreements can only be reversed by unanimous decision“. That would be the negative consensus model the WTO employs in the Dispute Solution Understanding. Blocking the establishment of a panel or the adoption of a report requires unanimity of all WTO members (Article 6 Paragraph 1 and 16 Paragraph 4 DSU). Obviously that helps getting things adopted.

Under the „unwritten rules“, a political agreement can be adopted against the will of all EU Member States except the one holding the presidency. If Luxembourg puts it on the agenda somewhere, no one else can object.

That may or may not be a reasonable way to proceed. However, it is definitely not what the current rules of procedure say.

If someone wants to run the Council by a set of unwritten rules not incorporated in the current rules of procedure, they need to observe the necessary steps to change the written rules.

That is only common sense. Anybody who insists on running the Council based on a set of „unwritten rules“ really has no business influencing any legislation procedure in the first place. Legislation is writing rules. If you can’t do that even for your own procedure, then you clearly are not qualified to write rules everybody else is supposed to follow.

Assuming that running the Council by unwritten rules is acceptable, everybody could make up their own set of unwritten rules. That could be fun.

For example, the United Kingdom might make up a rule that they won’t support any proposal at all until such time as their issue X is resolved in a way they want. (This has actually happened before).

Or Poland and other states that have a language not used in the „political agreement“ might make up a rule that they won’t support any proposal at all before they see it translated in their own language. That would have the added benefit of being what the current rules of procedure actually say now. To quote:

Except as otherwise decided unanimously by the Council on grounds of urgency, the Council shall deliberate and take decisions only on the basis of documents and drafts drawn up in the languages specified in the rules in force governing the languages. (Article 14, Paragraph 1)

The Council confirms that present practice whereby the texts serving as a basis for its deliberations are drawn up in all the languages will continue to apply (Annex III statement m)“

I might be wrong, however. Running the Council by unwritten rules might actually be a great idea.

That is, if your objective is to write one set of rules for software patents designed to fool the public that you won’t allow them, and leave a few loopholes for the „gentlemen“ in the patent offices to grant them anyway based on another set of „unwritten rules“.

If the point of the whole exercise is only to get those „gentlemen“ a larger loophole than the current „as such“, it might actually be just fitting to have the proposal adopted in Council relying on „unwritten rules“.

Update: "The rules in force governing the languages" referred to in Article 14 of the Council rules of procedure cited above are laid down in Regulation 1/1958, as amended by the act of accession of 10 new member states. The latest version is published in the Official Journal L 236 of September 23, 2003, on page 791. The present version is:

"Article 1

The official languages and the working languages of the institutions of the Union shall be Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish."

Article 4

Regulations and other documents of general application shall be drafted in the twenty official languages."

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Posted by Karl-Friedrich Lenz at February 26, 2005 11:55 AM