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Qu’est-ce qu’ACTA?

ACTA est une offensive de plus contre le partage de la culture sur Internet. ACTA est l’Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ou accord commercial anti-contrefaçon), un accord négocié secrètement entre 2007 et 2010, dans l’ombre et en gardant le public dans l’ignorance plutôt que débattu démocratiquement. Jusqu’à 2010, toutes les informations relatives à ACTA ont été des fuites qui révélaient le secret intentionnel pour dérouter le public.

ACTA contourne les parlements et les organisations internationales pour imposer une logique répressive dictée par les industries du divertissement en créant de nouvelles sanctions pénales forçant les acteurs d’Internet à surveiller et à censurer les communications en ligne.

Quels pays ont déjà signé ACTA ?

1er octobre 2011 : le Japon et les USA, à l’origine du traité avec le Canada, l’Australie, la Nouvelle-Zélande, Singapour et la Corée du Sud.

26 janvier 2012 : la Commission Européenne, en charge des négociations avec des représentants non-élus de 22 états membres : Autriche, Belgique, Bulgarie, République Tchèque, Danemark, Finlande, France, Grèce, Hongrie, Irlande, Italie, Lettonie, Lituanie, Slovénie, Luxembourg, Malte, Pologne, Portugal, Roumanie, Espagne, Suède et Royaume-Uni.

3 février 2012 : la Pologne annonce qu’elle suspend le processus de ratification : “it had made insufficient consultations before signing the agreement in late January, and it was necessary to ensure it was entirely safe for Polish citizens”. (source)

6 février 2012 : Le Premier ministre tchèque Petr Necas a annoncé lundi que son gouvernement allait suspendre le processus de ratification de l’accord multilatéral anti-contrefaçon ACTA, objet de vigoureuses protestations de nombreux internautes en République tchèque et dans d’autres pays. Le cabinet “ne peut en aucun cas accepter une situation dans laquelle les libertés fondamentales et l’accès libre aux informations seraient menacés”, a déclaré M. Necas. (source)

La signature d’ACTA par les pays européens ne signifient pas que l’affaire est dans le sac : le traité doit encore être ratifié par le Parlement Européen, qui votera en juin 2012 pour ratifier ou rejeter ACTA.

Introduction

Civic liberties and parliamentary institutions represent one of the major cultural legacies: England left to the civilization of the world. The first document protecting individual liberty and the prototype of modern Parliament appeared in England as early as the 13th century. But effective protection against arbitrary power and the first parliamentary regime emerged much later in the 17th. However the modern notion of democracy, which implies full political citizenship for everyone (no one deprived of the right to vote) took much longer time to take route in Britain than elsewhere in the world. The pioneer of Parliamentarism took the slow road to universal suffrage. As the American claim for independence and liberty showed in the late 19th century, English liberty celebrated by the most famous philosophers (Voltaire and Montesquieu) was more a myth than a reality.

I. Origins of Parliament and Civil liberties.

In Britain, there is no written constitution to protect civil liberties and define the rules of the political game. Yet, several traditions, constitutional agreements and political conventions exist and constitute the pillars of the regime. One of those document is the Magna Carta (Great Charter) granted by King John in 1215 under the pressure of his aristocracy and clergy. This document excluded very early in English history the practice of political absolutism and excessive use of the royal prerogative). Moreover, after Magna Carta, no excessive demand for money could be made by the King without the consent of the aristocracy and clergy. British and American tradition of vote on taxation finds its origin in this event. Finally, concerning individual freedom, after Magna Carta, no arrest in prison or punishment could be performed on aristocrats and clergymen without a trial by similar kinds of people, according to the law of the land. It is the starting point of the notion of trial by peers.

Later on, in 1265, Edward I was forced by his aristocracy to assemble (summon) the first Parliament in English history, which took the name of Model Parliament. The very notion of Parliament, from the French word "parler" implies a discussion on every legislative decision and therefore, the possibility for a diversity of opinions. English Parliament was the first to include representatives from outside the clergy and aristocracy. It was established in a very pragmatic way, simply for the King needed the support of the whole nation for his military campaigns against Wales, Scotland and France. Thus, it was necessary for him to raise money through taxation. So, before being a full legislative body where law is made, Parliament rests on the principle of no taxation without political representation.
From its origin, the Parliament started to meet in two separate chambers located in the Palace of Westminster:

  • The Upper House or House of Lords, organized according to the principle of heredity (by birth, not by elections).
  • The Lower House or House of Commons, organized by elections and receiving the representatives of taxpayers and landowners (= the rich).

The Parliamentary institutions founded in the Middle Ages have a paradoxical nature. The Model Parliament was the first representative political body in Europe, England was called the Mother of Parliament but the right to vote (= the Franchise) and the right to be elected (= Eligibility) were defined as a privilege either of birth or property and money, not as a universal right. It took several centuries for England to reform this initial trend.

II. The Glorious Revolution of 1688

In the first part of the 17th century, abuse of authority from the King led to a re-statement of rights whose origins could be found in English story. At the end of the 17th century, after a period of Civil War and a peaceful revolution, the tradition of parliamentary sovereignty became past of the legal framework of the English constitution. In 1628, the Parliament opposed a petition of rights to the King, claiming for political guarantees against money for Charles I’s European and colonial wars. The King’s refusal to renounce to this prerogative led to a civil war and to the King’s execution in 1649.

The principle of the petition re-emerged in the events of 1688, called the Glorious Revolution for it was bloodless. The current King James II was forced to leave the country and was replaced by his daughter Mary and her husband William on the condition that the two would accept a declaration of rights in exchange of the throne. The contract was instituted: political power against rights. After it was approved, the declaration was known as the Bill of Rights in 1689, which constituted the first constitutional monarchy in the world by stipulating once for all:

  1. The King can’t suspend a law voted in Parliament
  2. The King can’t raise taxes or maintain a permanent army in time of peace without a vote in Parliament.

The new institution created the notion of Government by the leaders of the country’s majority and led to the formation of two political parties alternating in power as the majority and the opposition. The name of the first party is the Whigs: they supported the new regime and represented the world of business and commerce. In the 19th century, the Whigs became the Liberal Party. The second party was the Tories, who supported a more authoritarian definition of the monarchy. They represented the class of agricultural landowners. In the 19th century, the Tories became the Conservative Party.

In the field of individual rights, before the Glorious Revolution, a piece of legislation passed in 1679 and called the Habeas Corpus aimed at protecting subjects against royal absolutism alongside the lines first defined by Magna Carta. The Habeas Corpus banned arrest and detention without trial but freedom from custody could only be obtained after came on an amount of money, given as a guarantee and called a bail. Therefore, by the end of the 17th century, England has become the first representative government in Europe. The King’s right to suspend legislation (= to refuse to give assent to a bill accepted by both Houses of Parliament) became purely theoretical: this right of veto was last exercised in 1707. Later on, the tradition of cabinet government and the position of Prime Minister progressively emerged and later became an unquestionable right of the British people. The P.M. was the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons. He became the real head of Government: British Kings were said to reign but not to rule. Yet, this perfect picture of British liberties needs to be corrected by several remarks.

III. Myth of English liberty

In the 18th century, apart from the Bill of Rights and the Habeas Corpus, no constitution really protected British subjects from political abuses. The King had the full power of creating Lords (= Peers). He therefore had an influence over legislation.

In terms of elections, out of 8 million inhabitants, only 160 000 were voters. Until the middle of this century, parliamentary debates were secret but before 1872, ballot was not secret. Thus, the King could use corruption and intimidation to buy votes. Radical agitators criticized the fact that the British were subjects instead of being full citizens: parliamentary reforms became more and more advocated both inside and outside Britain:

  • The major group of protesters were the American colonists who were not represented in Parliament for they lived outside Britain but who had to pay taxes to the British government.
  • The second major group of protesters was the middle-class dissenters who were refused access public jobs for religious reasons.

British people had to wait until 1832, i.e. several decades after the American and French revolutions to witness some partial changes in their system of representation. Under popular pressure, the 1832′ Reform Act abolished unrepresentative seats in Parliament in order to increase representation. For instance, the mediaeval village of Dunwich, which had totally disappeared from the map still returned an MP to Parliament and the village of Old Sarum had 7 voters who elected 2 MPs!

At the same time, the Act distributed new seats to represent the population of recent industrial centers like Birmingham or Manchester but even after 1832, the numbers of voters represented no more than one fifth of the adult male population. It is only in the second part of the 19th century that the progressive extension of the franchise opened Parliament to the working class. Full universal suffrage for men over 21 was finally reached in 1918 but paradoxically, this very late measure was at the same time an early victory for the cause of women’s rights. British women received the right to vote in 1918, i.e. some 38 years before French women. Voting parity for all citizens, male or female, was finally decided in 1928.

From the experience of the middle ages and thanks to the institutional changes triggered off by the Glorious Revolution, British political culture inspired most modern parliamentary regime. However, the long absence of truly democratic representation was one of the origins of the American Revolution and led to the definition of new political modals.

Sommaire de la série From the Reformation to the birth of the American nation (1534-1776)

  1. The Reformation in the British Isles
  2. English Expansionism
  3. The Glorious Revolution of 1688
  4. The American colonies : Religion and Politics
  5. Birth of a Nation

Before 1832, the electoral system in Great Britain was confused : there were County seats, Borough seats, "scot and lot" seats (where any adult male who paid local poor rates could vote), "potwalloper" seats (where every resident male of at least 6 months standing who was not a pauper could vote) and of course "rotten boroughs".

Eventually, after a long struggle (cf The Peterloo Massacre in 1819), the First Reform Act was passed by a Whig Government in 1832, which resulted in an extension of male suffrage for England : in county seats to those owning freehold property worth at least 40 shillings per annum and those leasing or renting land worth at least £50 per annum ; in borough seats to those owning property worth at least £10 per annum with provisions. There were also changed in the distribution of seats : 56 borough constituencies lost their representation entirely, 30 boroughs lost one of their two members, 22 new Parliamentary boroughs were created with two members, 19 new Parliamentary boroughs were created with one member and county representation increased. Similar measure affected Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

However, many working-class men felt they had gained nothing from this legislation : they only saw a small increase in the electorate to the advantage of the middle-class. There followed a period of agitation, referred to as Chartism. In 1835, there were calls for the repeal of Stamp Duties, for an honest and cheap press. The London Working Men’s Association, with middle-class participation, organised a petition composed of Six Points, published in 1838 as the People’s Charter. They wanted :

  1. A vote for every man aged 21 or over
  2. A secret ballot
  3. No property qualification for MP’s
  4. Payment of MP’s
  5. Equal constituencies
  6. Annual parliaments

Chartism ebbed and flowed over the next 20 years with a peak in 1848. Fervour often coincided with economic and social problems (bad harvests, unemployment, strikes, famines). Some say Chartism failed because the working-class was not ready for the vote ; others that the Chartists were riven by internal divisions and Governments certainly always fought hard against them, branding them as evil wreckers. After 1858, Chartism faded away.

During the 1850s, there were numerous limited reform proposals, most of which emanated from Lord Russell, but Parliament was not ready yet for them. In 1866, Gladstone, drafted a Reform Bill which was defeated by a coalition of right wing Whigs and Conservatives. The Government fell. Thus followed a wave of popular resentment : extra-parliamentary pressure led to another attempt at reform, this time proposed by the Conservatives under Lord Derby and Disraeli. Eventually, the Second Reform Act was passed in 1867, a "leap in the dark" according to Derby. A new concept was initiated called "household suffrage with safeguards", though the safeguards were soon to be dropped. In the boroughs, residential qualification was one year, £10 annual rent lodgers were accepted. In the counties, the annual rent qualification was fixed at £12 per annum. Altogether this led to the enfranchisement of 1 250 000 men of the "upper" working-class, a fine reward according to Disraeli.

Some measures required a few years to come to fruition. It took 6 years until all miners in rent-free colliery homes in Morpeth could vote for example. Some feared this would lead to the rise of socialism. Others believed that no individual had a "right" to vote. The working-class were variously described as "venal and ignorant".

After the enfranchisement or urban householders in 1867, the next step was to do the same for rural householders. The spread of literacy removed one objection. The Whig influence was declining. The Liberal Joseph Chamberlain pushed hard for reform. Eventually, Gladstone’s Liberal Government pushed through the 3rd Reform Act in 1885. Single member constituencies were imposed in counties and most boroughs. The chief victims were the Whigs, who had often been paired with Liberals. The electorate increased from 2.5m to 5m in England and Wales (2/3 of men could vote). Yet men in receipt of poor relief were still disenfranchised, there was a one year residence qualification and women were still voiceless.

The State and the Nation

For Benedict Anderson, Nations are “imagined communities”: it means that there is a will of the people to do things together and this group of people is so large that people cannot know every member: hence, they imagine the other members like them, sharing the same value.

The State is an independent polity, a political unit with a fully independent legislature. Scotland is not a State but she is a Nation. Until 1999, Scotland was described as a “stateless nation”. Now it has a legislature: she is referred to as a “partially-stated nation”.

Home Rule – Devolution

“Home Rule” is a concept developped by the Liberal Party at the end of the 19th century. The whole concept was “Home Rule All Around” (i.e. Home Rule in UK). Then, it meant self-government (independence, autonomy), and later: devolution proposals of the Labour Party.

For Scotland, Home Rule means Scotland governed by Scots in Scotland: it underlines Scotland’s sovereignty. On the other hand, devolution underlines the sovereignty of the British State.

Vernon Bogdanor defines devolution as “the transfer of powers from a superior to an inferior political authority. Devolution may be defined as consisting of three elements:

  • the transfer to a subordinate elected body
  • on a geographical basis
  • of functions at present exercised by ministers and Parliament

The Scotland Act of 1998 set up the Scottish Parliament, its rules etc. Section 28: “this section does not affect the power of the British Parliament to make laws for Scotland”. In theory, the British Parliament can still make laws for Scotland in Education for instance. The Scottish Parliament is subordinated to the British Parliament.

  • Devolved areas: education, health, environment…
  • Reserved areas: defence, foreign affairs, constitution…

Differences between the 2 electoral systems

England uses the single ballot simple majority system, also known as “the first-past-the-post” system: one round is always sufficient since the party which gets the largest number of votes wins. This system was designed for only 2 political parties at the time. If there is more than 2 parties, it is unfair for parties whose electors are not located in the same area.

Example : General Election in Scotland in 1997 for the British Parliament:
Conservatives:    17.5%     0 seats (they never came first)
Liberals:                13%     10 seats (they came first several times)

The British Parliament is bicameral (2 chambers: House of Lords + House of Commons). Scotland uses a completely different system: there are 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament:

  • 73 seats for the 1st vote: first-past-the-post system (vote for a candidature),
  • 56 seats for the 2nd vote: additional member system. It restores some balance between the votes cast and the number of candidates: adds up some proportional representation.

The Scottish Parliament is unicameral: decisions are usually made quicker than in the British Pt since it is more constructive and consensual. Therefore, the Scottish Parliament is more representative of the people of Scotland than the British Parliament is.

Sommaire de la série Scottish Politics: devolution

  1. Definitions : the State, the Nation, Home Rule and Devolution
  2. Scottish Home Rule
  3. The Act of Union of 1707
  4. The rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP)
  5. The Scottish Parliament

Introduction

On May 1st 1997, a general election took place in the UK. It was won by the Labour Party after 18 years of Conservative Government (1979-1997).The political programme of the Labour party included a vast number of constitutional reforms and manifestos:

  • devolution (power to the regions) to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and English regions (wide range).
  • reform of the House of Lords.
  • incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law.

The Labour Government was for devolution because there were demands for more autonomy (yet not the same demands):

  • Scotland: Parliament (law making body)
  • Wales: Assembly
  • Northern Ireland: Assembly and power-sharing executive between Catholics and Protestants.

The Scotland Act

September 11th 1997: referendum in Scotland on devolution. Majority of “Yes” votes. The Scottish Bill was introduced and validated. It became the Scotland Act in 1998, which defines the Scottish Parliament, its rules… The next stage was the 1st Scottish General Election. Donald Dewar, who had been Secrtary of State for Scotland in Tony Blair’s Government became the First Minister of Scotland. Labour did not have a majority and made an alliance with the Liberal-Democrats (coalition executive).

Between mid-May and the end of June, the Scottish Parliament met on a regular basis but it was officially opened by the Queen on July 1st 1999.

Opinion polls about the Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament has achievedSept. 2000Feb. 2001
 
A lot11%25%
A littleless than 56%56%
Nothing at all29%14%

This study was conducted in Scotland only. The positive views more than doubled. The Scottish Parliament cannot change things overnight, some decisions might take some time.

The Scottish Parliament

Achieved things in certain areas:

  • the abolition of poindings and warrant sales.

This old law obsolete concerned people who had too many debts and could not pay the loans back. The company to whom money was owed could easily seize the property of those people. The British Parliament had to repeal it but had not any time to discuss: the Scottish Parliament repealed it.

  • tuition fees.

Were introduced by Tony Blair. Before, students received grants from the State when the number of students was low. As it increased, it became a problem. Thatcher suppressed grants and adopted loans. Those loans were for 3 years: it meant lots of money to pay back and some students stopped their studies (masters) because they could not afford it.

Tuition fees were £1,000 per student to enter University. It was a very unpopular measure, especially in Scotland. Only the Labour party was defending it. At the election of 1999, the Labour party won but did not get the majority. They formed a coalition with the Lib-Dem and the latter asked for the abolition of tuition fees. That is why tuition fees do not exist in Scotland for Scottish students. They exist in Britain and Wales for everyone. Scottish students do not pay £1000 each year but they have to pay back £2,000 (for the four-year degree course in Scotland) when they start earning £10,000 a year. It is a lump sum and you pay for the next generation (idea of solidarity).

The slippery slope to independence

One possible scenario for the independence of Scotland :

  • the SNP should win a majority of seats in Scottish Parliament,
  • organize a referendum,
  • if there is a majority of “Yes” votes, go to the British Parliament,
  • pass a bill for Scotland’s independence.

Introduction

Scotland was never conquered by England. There were attempts but they failed. At the end of the 13th century, the wars of independence began.

In May 1st 1707, the Act of Union was ratified between England and Scotland: the Scottish Parliament and the English Parliament were suspended. They created the British Parliament and formed the Great Britain by the Union of Scotland and England.

At the time, Scotland was already a protestant country (the Reformation came in the 16th century, before then she was catholic). As England was also protestant, the two nations grew closer. The Queen chose an number of men to represent Scotland and England in a commission to discuss the terms of the treaty of Union.Several Acts and events precipitated the Union.

1698 – 1699: expeditions to Darien

It was a total failure for the Company of Scotland :

  • Scotland lost trading opportunities with France (due to the Reformation),
  • the Navigation Acts (1660-1663) prevented Scotland from trading with English colonies.

In England, the East-Indian Company had monopole and money. Hence, Scotland wanted the same: that is how the Company of Scotland was set up in 1695. Its full name was “Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies”. The East-Indian was not very happy and put pressure on English financiers who wanted to provide money to the capital of the Company of Scotland. The financiers finally withdrew and the Scots had to provide money themselves: multitude of people giving little money.

The Company of Scotland established a trading-post in America: Darien, in the Isthmus of Panama. 1698 saw the 1st expedition to Darien. It was a terrible failure for many people died during the journey and by fighting against the Spaniards already settled there. The 2nd expedition was also a failure and the people who had invested in the enterprise were ruined, just like the company. After that experience, the Scots thought the best thing would be a union with England (no more Navigation Acts and access to colonies trading).

1701: Act of Settlement (English Parliament)

The succession to the throne changed of line from the Stuarts to the Hanoverians. From 1689 to 1702, William and Mary ruled the country but they had no heir. Then, Mary’s sister, Anne came to the throne, from 1702 to 1714 but she had no heir either (in fact her child died in 1700). But what after Anne ?

Before William and Mary, James II was a Catholic ruling a protestant country. The English Parliament (protestant) did not want the Stuarts to rule any longer. The new monarch had to be Protestant (it is still on today). Since 1603 (the Union of the Crowns: still 2 different states, 2 different parliaments but one king), there was one monarch over Scotland and England so if the monarch was changed by the English Parliament, it would also affect Scotland… Therefore, the Scottish Parliament decide to vote too.

1704: Act of Security

Nobody can impose a monarch on Scotland: “we’ll choose an ‘heir’ to Anne ourselves” [threatening tone]

1705: Alien Act

The English Parliament voted that Scots who lived in England would be made aliens: they would lose rights like that of inheriting land and imports of cattle, linen and coal would be prohibited. It was an ultimatum for Scotland to accept the Union. It never came into force since Scotland agreed on discussing a treaty.

In 1706, the Treaty of Union was signed.

May 1st 1707 : the Union came into force. It was not the result of war or conquest but a treaty signed by 2 independent countries. Like a bargain: avantages and disadvantages.

Advantages:

  • for England:
  • question of succesion to the throne solved
  • peace secured on its northern border
  • for Scotland:
  • economic opportunities (new markets)
  • political influence as part of the U.K.
  • key institutions protected (law, education, Presbyterian Church)
  • peace with England guaranteed.

Keeping the Presbyterian Church was more important than the Parliament because it was more representative of the population (plus it controlled education).

In Scotland, the Jacobites (who supported James Stuart) threatened the Union because the line had changed from the Stuarts to the Hanoverians. The Jacobite rebellions took place in 1708,1715, and 1745. Jacobitism was crushed at the battle of Culloden in 1745.

After 1750, the relationships between England and Scotland were reinforced by the expansion of trade with the colonies. The Union started to bring benefits for Scots at last.

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