What happens next with CETA?


25 May 2017

After the mid-February approval of CETA by the European parliament, the focus turned to Canada and the member states of the European Union who all need to ratify the deal.

Once Canada has ratified it, however, most of CETA will start being implemented by both the EU and Canada on an interim basis in advance of the ratification decisions of EU member states. This is known as ‘provisional application’.

What can be implemented in this period are the parts of CETA that fall within the EU’s exclusive authority, or ‘competence’, while the parts where competence is shared between the EU and member states will wait. Essentially that is all of CETA except the corporate court system (ISDS or ICS), which is the most controversial part of the agreement. A date for the EU’s provisional application will be announced shortly and is likely to be soon – the smart money is on 1 July.

For CETA to be fully introduced, there are 30+ different ratifications and hoops to jump through. Some of these have happened, some are in the process and others yet to be scheduled. Here’s what we know:

Canada

CETA has concluded its legislative journey through the Canadian parliament and their government is pushing for a provisional implementation on 1 July.

EU Member States

The various processes of national ratification are starting across the EU. In Latvia the process is completed and CETA duly ratified.

Countries where there is a whiff of a chance of stopping CETA include:

Austria: There’s an election in October and the likelihood is a coalition government will result – with a probability of including the far right who have made noises against CETA in the past. But from the experience of UKIP in Britain, noises from far right parties rarely translate into decisive actions on such issues. In October we’ll be better placed to predict possible outcomes here.

Belgium. Remember last year when the EU Council were looking to pass the agreement and the situation in Wallonia provided a big stumbling block? Well, the issues which caused the furore have not been settled. Whilst the Flemish parliament is planning to vote on CETA in July, things will be a lot slower and more uncertain in Wallonia and Brussels. This is a good one to watch!

Cyprus. There’s a very small parliament in Cyprus, and there’s only 29 votes required to scupper CETA. Activists reckon they have 20 votes so far and are flat out trying to get the further nine required. Small chance here but we have our fingers crossed!

France. The process won’t start here until after the parliamentary elections take place in June. Although the new president Macron is a fan of CETA and deals like it, he’ll be a bit isolated and powerless without something approaching a majority in parliament. We won’t be predicting any outcome until those results are in.

Germany. Again, elections are looming and ratification will not be attempted before 2018. It’s a country where the Social Democrats are likely to support CETA, so hopes will be with the Left party and Greens polling well to  provide problems for the deal makers.

Greece. Ruling party Syriza are opposed to CETA, but the central trade ministry is in support. No timeline announced, but this one is another worth watching.

The Netherlands. The parliament is split, and any result is possible, especially if a defeated Labour party reacts by shifting left. Outside parliament, activists are collecting the required signatures to force a referendum on CETA. So far they have 200,000 out of the required 300,000. If CETA falls, it could fall in The Hague.

In all these countries, the pressure will grow to ratify CETA the more countries had already done so. Austria will probably conform with the majority especially if France and Germany have granted their approval, so looking at each member state in isolation is only valuable if you consider general political pressures in the EU.

And then there’s the UK

Anyone imagining the UK parliament is ‘taking back control’ of trade policy decisions is seriously misled. According to the House of Commons briefing paper, parliament’s role in ratifying treaties the process is as follows:

The government lays the treaty before parliament (i.e. makes it available to MPs and Peers to inspect). If, after 21 days of parliament sitting, there is not resolution passed against the treaty, it shall be automatically ratified.

If the House of Lords passes a resolution against the treaty, but not the Commons, the government may ratify regardless, after making a statement outlining its reasons for pressing ahead.

If the Commons passes a resolution against the treaty, a further 21 days is triggered during which ratification cannot be achieved. The Commons may pass further motions against ratification to repeat the 21 day requirement.

In effect this means that the House of Commons has no power to vote to stop CETA, only to pause it for 21 business days of parliament. To permanently stop CETA, the Commons will have to vote to do so every month. Indefinitely. This system will stand for treaties and trade deals, before and after Brexit. That’s why we need some serious reforms to trade democracy in the UK.

Is this what they mean by taking back control?

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Photo: Protest in Vienna, 2016. Flickr: Horst JENS

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