Is CETA dead yet?

24 October 2016

Some have called a victory, others are expecting to hear some awful deal has been brokered. Either way CETA*, the trade and investment deal between Canada and the EU, is in mortal danger.

CETA is stalled on its journey through the various bodies of the EU. The commission agreed it as predicted, and now it’s before the council, the ministers from each member state, to get agreement. Then the deal will be passed to the European parliament for approval (most likely in January).

Wallonian nightmare

The current travails of CETA revolve around the French-speaking part of Belgium. Wallonia has one of the parliaments in Belgium’s federal system and as such holds a veto on Belgium formally supporting the deal. Belgium in turn holds a veto on the EU getting its required unanimous agreement on CETA.

The stance of Wallonia is fascinating. Paul Magnette, the hero of the moment is the Minister President of Wallonia and a member of the Socialist Party (PS), the Belgian version of our Labour Party.

The Wallonian parliament has done its research on CETA. It ordered impact assessments, listened to expert panels, and debated the issues in a constructive and considered manner. The consensus is one of scepticism and opposition to CETA, inside parliament and in society in general. It has done more investigation than most of the member states in the EU. So it is arguing from a position of strength.

Wallonia used to be the prosperous part of Belgium. Over the past few decades, however, it has lost much of its manufacturing to the global South, its agriculture has suffered and it rightly feels that it has felt the impacts of neoliberal policies acutely.

On the political scene in Belgium is the mainstream left party (Magnette’s Socialist Party), which has been in power in Wallonia for a long time being challenged from the left. The resurgent Workers’ Party (PTB/PVDA) is growing in influence and threatens to break the 28 year hold on power in Wallonia for the Socialists. Taking a strong stand against the bullying tactics of the EU is quite a useful hand for Magnette to play.

All this combines to leave Magnette precious little room for manoeuvre, ensuring the deadlock will continue for a while at least. 

Germany’s  complications

A small group of organisations in Germany recently challenged CETA in the constitutional courts. Although the court ruled that it was compatible with German law for their government to support CETA, it issued a number of caveats. Most significantly was the rule that if any individual country voted against the deal, then the provisional application of CETA would have to cease. This greatly enhanced the chances of defeating CETA at a later date.

Juncker’s headaches

CETA is, for the people at the top of the EU, subject to too much democracy! Ironic because CETA has been so secretive and closed in it has managed to make TTIP look open and inclusive..

The EU Commission are looking at reclassifying CETA as a single (EU only) competency, which would mean to rule that CETA only affects EU law, not national law of the members states, and therefore can be agreed without consulting national governments. They would do this in the hope of avoiding more stumbling blocks should they manage to get past the current one. They are also looking to remove these hurdles for the safe passage of TISA (The Trade in Services Agreement) which will be the next big trade deal to seek ratification.

The latest deadline for Wallonia to bow down to the demands of the EU has been set for tonight (Monday 24 October). The impatience and demand for speed seem to most to be completely counter-productive. The process to achieve the CETA deal has thus far taken seven years, so why a few more weeks or months at the end is such a great burden is a mystery.

The latest news looks like Wallonia will not budge, we could be seeing the death of CETA today. But these things are never clear cut. TTIP is dead, but hasn’t been buried, and CETA is about to join it in some tormented trade deal purgatory.

If the EU commission is going to learn from this experience they should take the following notes:

  • Secretive negotiations for trade deals aren't acceptable. It does not help to argue that ‘to go into negotiations and show your hand at the beginning puts you in a position of weakness’ It doesn’t, it simply makes for more direct and informed negotiations
  • Handing over huge amounts of power and privilege to corporations is now a complete no-go area. Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS, the secret court system whereby corporations have investments protected and can sue governments if they feel less than fully protected and supported) has been made a toxic term. The Genie’s out of the bottle on this one and we won’t let it back in.
  • Trying to bully countries or bits of countries into supporting your agenda isn’t useful. It strengthens the resolve of your opponents.
  • Many people and organisations and some countries are saying "enough is enough". By all means negotiate away tariffs, but push the corporate agenda too far and you will lose.
  • Provisions in trade deals that commit future governments to certain policies (like privatisation ratchet clauses, where privatisations cannot practically be reversed) are both undemocratic and unacceptable.
  • The interests of the corporate world must be considered, but only after the interests of your electorate, the ordinary people of Europe, and their health, safety and well being.

To lose two major trade deals in two months isn’t just careless, it is a reflection of popular feeling mounting against an increasingly isolated and inflexible agenda. But that is what has happened.


*CETA stands for Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.



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