The text was scheduled for a routine rubber-stamp approval as an "A" item, but this fall the process seemed likely to be derailed due to technical changes in the voting powers of member states within the Council. In May, EU Council members supported the proposal by 89 votes, one more than the 88 needed for a qualified majority. If the Competitiveness Council had officially backed the proposal during the next five months, it would have gone through without a voteand without a controversy..Hungary, Latvia and the Netherlands have made declarations distancing themselves from the text. All of Germanys political parties called for the proposal to be modified to clearly exclude software patents. Last week Marc Verwilghen, the Belgian minister of economics and energy, even told his countrys Parliament that the text would not be adopted by the Council this year "for the reason that the qualified majority no longer exists." (His comments can be found on page 14 of this document [PDF].) However, while countries such as Poland may have had the right to formally derail the process, they did not do so, meaning that the vote will occur as planned, Philpott said. "An awful lot has been spoken by people outside of the procedure, on the way in which one country or another may be thinking of changing its vote," he said. "We have a perspective from within the procedure, and a lot of that doesnt bear any resemblance to reality. No member state has changed its position." It is still possible that agriculture or environment ministers could derail the texts adoption, but observers said this is unlikely. If adopted, the proposal will return next year to the European Parliament for a second reading, but MEPs will find it more difficult than before to make changes, as a larger majority will be needed than in the first reading. eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.
However, a delay in translating the needed documents pushed the Competitiveness Council decision into November. This has made all the difference, because new voting rules that came into effect on 1 November have destroyed the proposals earlier qualified majority, according to No Software Patents campaign manager Florian Mueller. According to his analysis, available on the campaigns Web site (PDF), the proposal now falls 16 votes short of a qualified majority. Poland officially declared it could not support the proposal. "Because of numerous ambiguities and contradictions respecting the current directive project, Poland cannot support the text which was accepted in the vote of the Council on 18 May 2004," the Polish Council of Ministers said in a statement.