Today we have won a battle on CETA, but the war is not over

Today we have won a battle on CETA, but the war is not over

By: Nick Dearden
Date: 18 October 2016

29706129973_a93e2a6f58_zTTIP is close to death, and EU governments just failed to pass another toxic ‘trade’ deal with Canada. Europe’s undemocratic trade deals are in serious trouble, but we need to step up our work to stop them if we care about our public services and out environment.

Last month proponents of the US-EU trade deal TTIP , turned against the agreement. Government ministers in France, Germany and Austria said it was time to declare the deal dead, given the wave of anger and protest it had caused throughout Europe.

This is welcome, because TTIP is less about trade, and more about handing power to big business, even allowing foreign corporations to sue governments in special ‘corporate courts’ for taking action that damages their profits. It is a threat to our public services and our food standards. Negotiated behind closed doors, it even threatens the ability of our elected representatives to scrutinise the deal.

So the demise of TTIP is welcome. But what’s less welcome is that TTIP was effectively sacrificed to regain momentum on CETA  – TTIP’s ugly brother between the EU and Canada. Negotiators hoped that by appearing to compromise on TTIP, they would weaken opposition to CETA.

But today it looks like their strategy has failed. Unexpectedly, EU governments failed to sign off CETA, putting a temporary halt to the ratification process. This is big news as a trade deal never before in history has experienced such difficulties in the EU council. CETA is by no means dead, but the deal is in serious trouble. And for good reasons.

In most respects, CETA is just as awful as TTIP. While negotiators have tampered with the ‘corporate court’ system and written reassuring words to allay concerns, CETA is still essentially a pact for deregulation and liberalisation. It allows big business more say in how we produce food, how we treat chemicals, how our public services are run.

That’s why protests against the deal over the last month have engaged hundreds of thousands of people. And it also explains why several governments are still not sure how they’ll vote tomorrow.
In Belgium, regional parliaments, most importantly the Walloon parliament, have taken a strong stance against CETA. On Friday the head of the Walloon government Paul Magnette announced that he will block Belgium’s support for CETA, saying “I consider this a request to re-open negotiations so that European leaders could hear the legitimate demands which have been forcefully expressed by an organized, transparent civil society.” Because of Belgium’s federal structures, this means Belgium cannot vote in favour of CETA – though this might not be enough to stop the deal.

While Austria have backed down in its opposition to CETA, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia remain sceptical, largely because of visa issues for their citizens.

Today’s meeting was not only supposed to give the final approval from European government for CETA, but to agree to the ‘provisional implementation’ of the deal. This would mean CETA would come into effect as soon as the European parliament has voted on it – probably later this year – but before member state parliaments like Westminster get a say.

Shockingly, the British government is backing CETA, including its provisional implementation, in the hope that they can be part of CETA before our exit from the EU happens.  In Germany, however, the Constitutional Court delivered a further blow to CETA’s prospects, questioning the compatibility between CETA and the German constitution. The ruling insisted that, as a minimum, Germany should be able to pull out of CETA during the period of provisional application if it is proved that CETA contravenes the German constitution, and that the corporate court system cannot be provisionally applied.

In the lead up to today’s meeting, negotiators have been touring Europe to convince sceptical politicians that the problems around CETA can be managed. They have even written a special document to accompany the deal which they claim makes absolutely clear that state’s retain their so-called ‘right to regulate’. But critics aren’t buying it – saying it does nothing but reaffirm what’s already in the 1,500 page deal – and we don’t like it.

Even though CETA didn’t make it through the council meeting today, we can’t stop campaigning. The signing of CETA by the EU council is mainly being held back by Belgium and the Walloon parliament and could still be signed soon. We then turn to the European parliament. Although some MEPs, like Scottish Labour MEP David Martin, are trying to ‘fast track’ the parliamentary vote, others are holding out for more scrutiny.  If it gets through that parliament, we then still have a chance to reverse CETA as it goes through member state parliaments.

The more people hear about CETA, the more opposition grows. That means that the more debate and scrutiny in the week ahead, the more chance we have to stop this toxic deal. Today we have won a battle, but the war is far from over.