CETA: what happened in Strasbourg and what’s next


16 February 2017

Yesterday the European parliament passed CETA, the Canada-EU trade deal. After a fearsome campaign the vote was 408 in favour, 254 against with 33 abstentions. 209 MEPs did not turn up to vote.

During the debate and voting, around 1000 people were involved in protests against CETA. Demos and marches took place outside the chamber in the parliament building in Strasbourg city centre and even on the river.

I write this as I return from Strasbourg, where I joined the march from town to parliament. Once the result was announced, a siren sounded and participants laid down acting dead to signify the potential effects of CETA on ourselves, our communities, our jobs and our society. The symbolism was but momentary. Speeches and talk immediately turned to taking the fight to the national level.

The campaign against CETA

Global Justice Now has been campaigning against CETA for the past three years and, most recently, waged a relentless lobbying campaign on Labour Party MEPs, the only group that hadn't expressed voting intentions.

Over 10,000 Global Justice Now supporters sent emails and postcards (and even valentine’s cards) to their MEPs; local groups of activists organised lobbying meeting with their representatives, and in 2014/15 over 3,200,000 Europeans signed the European Citizens Initiative, 500,000 from the UK.

That pressure paid off. At the Labour Party's MEPs meeting before the vote, the group was so split that no whip was agreed and the MEPs would have a free vote.In the end, 10 Labour MEPs voted against CETA, 7 voted for the deal, 2 abstained and one was away on maternity leave (she would certainly have voted against CETA). To turn the group from the outside is a huge testament to the efforts of all supporters of Global Justice Now and the groups we have worked closely with throughout this campaign.

What’s next?

CETA will start to be provisionally applied from 1 March (they're not hanging about!). Provisional application means the parts of CETA which impact on European law will be introduced, while those parts which affect national law of the members states will have to wait for each and every state to ratify.

States will have different processes to ratify. In the UK, unsurprisingly perhaps, will have one of the less democratic ways of ratification. Like secondary legislation, CETA will be 'laid before parliament' and if no objection raised, will go through automatically. It is doubtful the Labour party will want to risk another split by calling for a vote on CETA – a vote they are bound to lose.

Attention, therefore will turn elsewhere. Belgium looks interesting. Remember the furore caused by Wallonia refusing to let Belgium sign CETA at the Council stage back in November? Well, those concerns and objections have yet to be fully addressed, allowing for another set-to near the seat of European democracy.

In The Netherlands, activists are pushing for a referendum to be held on the issue. They need to collect 300,000 signatures to request one (it's only advisory, but the pressure will be on). Other countries might not want to force a decision before elections which are coming up - with elements that might be against CETA in good ways or bad in the running for election.

This fight is far from over. In the UK it appears like well be turning our attention to TISA and the Brexit-era trade agenda. Let us know if you have other issues to feed it. But one thing's for sure, we want to be able to shout about what we are for in the trade debate, not simply what were against, so were working up alternatives to corporate friendly trade policies and deals.

 Watch this space.

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