The CETA trade agreement was signed Sunday October 30th, but this is not the end of the story. Now it’s the European Parliament’s turn. Εight questions and answers on what comes next.
by Eurydice Bersi*
1 What happened in Brussels on October 30th?
The Prime Minister of Canada and the heads of the European Commission and the European Council signed the EU- Canada trade and investment pact, CETA, as well as a separate Strategic EU-Canada Cooperation Agreement.
2 What comes next?
The 1600 pages-long text now moves to the EP for debate and voting on February 14th, 2017. Only if the European parliament gives the green light, CETA will be put into provisional implementation on February 17, 2017.
3 Can CETA follow on the footsteps of the Pacific Agreement?
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the US, Japan, Australia, Malaysia and other Pacific Rim countries, was signed with great fanfare in February 2016, but has not entered into force, as the required congressional majority in the US is nowhere to be seen.
4 What does CETA provisional implementation even mean?
It means that proponents of the Agreement have great doubts about whether it will be ratified by the parliaments of all EU countries and how many years this may take. They are thus making use of a loophole that allows for immediate implementation of an international treaty before its ratification by national parliaments, in case of emergency.
5 And what is the emergency?
Giant Canadian beef and porc producers would urgently like to export more meat to the EU and major EU companies are in a hurry to bid for public procurement contracts in Canada. Powerful lobbies on both sides of the Atlantic are eager to officially take part in crafting the rules affecting their businesses, via their participation in the organs created by CETA for the 'voluntary harmonization' of laws and regulations (Joint Committees). And the EU Commission is eager to prove that its trade policy is still breathing.
6 What happened to opposition from Belgium?
The Walloons (French speaking Belgians) caved in, after enormous pressure, but sold their signature dearly. They managed to exclude from provisional implementation the most dangerous part of CETA, namely arbitration panels. (former ISDS, now ICS). The German constitutional court has also ruled that arbitration panels should not be part of the provisionally implemented treaty. In addition, Wallonia forced the federal government of Belgium to ask the European Court of Justice whether arbitration panels are compatible with European law. Arbitration not an academic issue, it has potentially dramatic implications for public finances. Here is one example, and there are hundreds more: TransCanada, a Canadian company, demands USD 15 billion (not million!) in damages from the US, because the administration accepted the will of the people and stopped the Keystone XL pipeline.
7 What will happen in the European Parliament?
Overall balance of forces in the EP is, so far, in favor of CETA. As far as Greek MEPs are concerned, the MEPs of PASOK and POTAMI (S&D group) seem determined to vote for the treaty, SYRIZA MEPs have declared they are voting against CETA, despite the fact that the SYRIZA government has signed it, while a New Democracy MEP, Manolis Kefalogianis, unexpectedly announced that the party’s MEP will not cast a vote in favor, stepping away from the European Peoples Party line. Kefalogiannis told the Greek press that ND MEPs are not sure at this stage whether they will abstain or vote no, but that they have decided they will "not vote in favor of CETA or TTIP”.
8 After five years of negotiations and two years of translation / legal scrubbing, does it make sense to oppose CETA now?
When CETA negotiations started in 2009, even the mandate given by the European Council to the European Commission was kept secret. The CETA text was drafted without any input from parliaments, away from public scrutiny but in close coordination with powerful interest groups. From the very beginning, critics were told that once negotiations are finished, the public will have a say. If trade policy objectives were set more democratically, and if societies could influence the course of negotiations, ratification would not be a problem. Moreover, when someone decides to block a treaty, as Wallonia did, this is usually a symptom of broader opposition, that happens to bubble up in one particular place. Majorities in France, Germany, Austria and elsewhere, are opposed to trade agreements - and the more centrist parties ignore their grievances and overstate the benefits of the agreement, the more vulnerable they become to attacks from the right and the left.
The concessions won by Wallonia (French, Dutch)
*Eurydice Bersi is a Greek journalist