With SOPA, Neelie Kroes played the waiting game

The EU isn’t known for groundbreaking legislation. It seems to be able to stick its head in the sand every time controversial legislation is passed in other Western countries, but doesn’t hold back on pointing the finger elsewhere in the world, willy-nilly.

When the SOPA dust began to settle, the EU Commission’s Digital Agenda Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, pulled her head out of the sand and had some choice words to share with the world via her Twitter account.

“Glad tide is turning on #SOPA: don’t need bad legislation when should be safeguarding benefits of open net.” It’s nice that Der Kommissar shares this after SOPA is dead in the waters, at the mercy of merciless online pirates, as the bill’s supporters would have you believe.

Cynics might say 20/20 hindsight is a blessing.

While most will find the comment an unusual reaction at US policy, something the EU traditionally frowns upon, there is in fact a reason for this. Last November, during the EU-US Summit, both parties specifically agreed they would oppose a move such as SOPA. In writing.

“22. We share a commitment to a single, global Internet, and will resist unilateral efforts to weaken the security, reliability, or independence of its operations — recognizing that respect for fundamental freedoms online, and joint efforts to strengthen security, are mutually reinforcing. 

“We welcome the progress made by the EU-U.S. Working Group on Cyber-security and Cyber-crime, notably the successful Cyber Atlantic 2011 exercise. We endorse its ambitious goals for 2012, including combating online sexual abuse of children; enhancing the security of domain names and Internet Protocol addresses; promotion of international ratification, including by all EU Member States, of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime ideally by year’s end; establishing appropriate information exchange mechanisms to jointly engage with the private sector; and confronting the unfair market access barriers that European and U.S. technology companies face abroad.”

We’re pretty sure “unilateral” was meant to address third parties and not the attendees, but the term is ambiguous enough to earn Kroes some karma. It seems, for once, the Eurocracy did something right – before it happened – although it didn’t collect on this until the SOPA had hit the fan.

The odd cynic or two might also say the EU actually means that legislation such as SOPA shouldn’t be approved without a European counterpart to keep things level. ACTA is another matter.

Probably expecting a riling from their US counterparts, the tweet was quickly followed by comic relief: “Speeding is illegal too: but you don’t put speed bumps on the motorway”. No, you put speed limits for that. People choose not to obey them and it’s up to the coppers, not the automobile makers or car dealerships, to lock people up.