OPED: Why the battle against CETA is not over
[cs_content][cs_section parallax=”false” style=”margin: 0px;padding: 45px 0px 0px;”][cs_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” style=”margin: 0px auto;padding: 0px;”][cs_column fade=”false” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” fade_duration=”750″ type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px;”][cs_text class=”cs-ta-right”]December 7th, 2016[/cs_text][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][cs_section parallax=”false” style=”margin: 0px;padding: 0px;”][cs_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” style=”margin: 0px auto;padding: 0px;”][cs_column fade=”false” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” fade_duration=”750″ type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px;”][cs_text class=”cs-ta-justify”]On 30th October last, the formal approval of CETA – the free trade agreement between European Union and Canada – was finally signed in Brussels. The signature was postponed for a few days after the Walloon region of Belgium initially refused to sign the treaty. Paul Magnette – the Walloon Prime minister – invoked social, environmental and above all democratic reasons to justify the decision of Wallonia. He explains in detail this rejection here.
Private arbitration courts were the main sticking point. Under the proposed deal Canadian companies could sue European states if one of their decisions jeopardizes their profits. Those against the deal wanted to know why these new ‘courts’ were private and how they would choose judges and who would pay them. Civil society from Wallonia, Ireland and elsewhere in Europe massively supported Wallonia rejection. However after coming under increased pressure Paul Magnette finally accepted to sign the deal. The amendments made remain vague. But we know for sure that Wallonia obtained a clause allowing leaving CETA at any time.
This does not mean game over. EU Parliament has to vote on whether to sign the final ratification. Originally planned for the beginning of 2017, this ratification could be accelerated and take place in early December. Many environmental groups are concerned that this is being used to deter European Members of Parliament from going through the 1600 pages-long document.
CETA is indeed a very complex, technical case, resulting of seven years of negotiation between EU and Canada. Scrutinizing it within just a few weeks would be a huge task. The European Union had already used this technique and relied on the lack of time to get the signature from all members-states for the formal approval. This is actually because Wallonia was virtually the only to take time to go deeply through the treaty that it refused to sign it.
Ratification by the European Parliament could therefore bring CETA into force in December 2016. Officially, all members-states have to ratify the treaty at national level before it becomes effective. Meaning that CETA should wait approval from 38 national or regional assemblies before being applied. This could take years.
Thankfully for the EU Parliament, a special and very convenient measure – whose democratic aspect is questionable – allows the EU to provisionally apply part of the trade agreement without waiting on all these endorsements. This point of the agreement has been accepted by all the countries involved when they signed the formal approval. This means that even if Walloons’ scrutiny awakens the ardour of some other assembly and leads them to reconsider their decision the biggest part of the agreement would still be effective. Which parts exactly is unknown for now.
But Wallonia isn’t finished yet. According to the amendments the region obtained, Belgium is supposed to put questions to the European Court of Justice about the legality of the arbitration courts. Exactly the same kind of legal scrutiny the European Parliament recently rejected. The fact is Walloon and the Federal Government of Belgium don’t have the same majority – Belgian political institutions are hugely complex, even for Belgians themselves. Wallonia is socialist while federal government is liberal. A political war is ongoing as the latter tries to delay the request of Wallonia.
Paul Magnette – the Walloon Prime minister – has already declared that if the federal government reverses its commitments he will “activate the suspension clause” and “ask the Walloon Parliament to declare a definitive and permanent non-ratification of CETA.” This will result in a suspension of the treaty for the 28 member states.
The very same Paul Magnette has also this week launched his “Déclaration de Namur“. This text aims to change the way EU negotiates trade treaties. What the Walloon Prime minister wants is more transparency and less agreements concluded in the higher spheres of the European Union without the general public being involved. “These principles should enable the European Union to demonstrate that trade does not serve private interests to the detriment of the public interest but contributes to the rapprochement between peoples, the fight against global warming and sustainable development, particularly the most disadvantaged regions”, he said. The declaration is supported by 40 signatories of from the international academic world.
While waiting to know what Wallonia decides, the next and most crucial step is still the ratification by the European Parliament and it will take place very soon. The final date is still unknown but it is said that it could be on December 14th.
Citizen mobilization is therefore the only remaining lever. This is why the Environmental Pillar decided to join his voice to an open letter to the legislators in order to express them serious concerns about CETA and to urge them to overturn the agreement. Go on this website to learn about CETA, what is happening next and how to mobilize against it. Don’t forget to Do the CETA Check! to find out the position of your European deputies about CETA and ask them to reject the agreement.
Image: Banner opposing CETA at the Walloon Parliament in Namur on 19 October 2016
[/cs_text][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][cs_section parallax=”false” style=”margin: 0px;padding: 0px;”][cs_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” style=”margin: 0px auto;padding: 0px;”][cs_column fade=”false” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” fade_duration=”750″ type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px;”][x_author title=”About the Author” author_id=””][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][/cs_content]