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Canada-EU summit cancelled, CETA’s future unknown

Update as of 7 am EDT: Just minutes ago, Belgium announced a deal has been reached with Wallonia on CETA. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel says, “All parliaments are now able to approve by tomorrow at midnight.” No word on when a signing summit would take place. As noted in the blog below, it’s still very possible that the controversial investment court system (ICS) will never be implemented.

Despite intense efforts by proponents, the Canada-European Union summit to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will not happen today!

At this hour, EU Observer reports, “Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau has cancelled a trip to Brussels, as Belgium failed on Wednesday (26 October) to clear internal opposition to CETA.”

That article notes, “Representatives of the nine Belgian entities talked until late on Wednesday, and will keep talking on Thursday. …According to Belgian public broadcaster RTBF, the Belgians agreed to a general safeguard clause, which would allow any regional entity within a federal structure like Belgium’s to withdraw the country from CETA. They also want a contested investment protection system to become a real public court, amid fears that the mechanism, in its current shape, is biased towards corporate interests. Farmers would also see special protection and support measures triggered if they are hurt by Canadian competition.”

Wallonia’s minister-president Paul Magnette says, “If we manage to agree on this in Belgium, the proposal will be presented to the other EU member states. Then it will have to be approved by [Belgium’s] regional parliaments.”

Le Soir adds (in French), “An advisory committee met several times Wednesday to work on a final text of a unilateral declaration that all governments could agree on, but various technical meetings and audits prevented agreement. The advisory committee meets again at 10 am on Thursday to try to find a common position on CETA.”

Similar to the EU Observer article, Le Soir says, “The text addresses key problem areas for Francophone entities: it reaffirms that disputes between investors and States will be treated by a public international court and not by a private arbitration proceedings, provides for safeguards to protect farmers when an imbalance market is found, even for a single product, claims the protection of personal services and provides a general safeguard clause to withdraw from CETA.”

While an informal report suggests the summit could still happen on Saturday (October 29), and Le Soir says it’s possible it could take place on Monday (October 31), the Stuttgarter Nachrichten notes (in German), “The CETA summit in Brussels has been cancelled indefinitely.”

This past week, Magnette stated, “This treaty affects the lives of 500 million Europeans and 35 million Canadians for years and years. We can take a few weeks, a few months to analyze the problems and overcome them.” And Walloon parliament president Andre Antoine said, “A reasonable time frame would be the end of the year. With that, we could get there.”

This suggests that Wallonia won’t agree to a deal in the coming days, but that a deal that includes the three main points – investment protection reform, protection for farmers, and an exit clause – could be reached at some point in the coming weeks or months.

If that is accomplished, the Council of the European Union would still have to formally agree to the deal and the 751-member European Parliament would have to ratify it as well. Following that, significant portions of CETA would be provisionally applied before the 28 EU member states and 38 parliaments have the opportunity to vote on the deal. That said, a German constitutional court ruling on October 13 means that CETA’s most controversial provision – its investment court system (ICS) provision – cannot come into force until approved by all member states and parliaments.

This means that the ICS provision cannot be implemented until after the 2-3 year process of member state votes, and the hope and likelihood that it will not secure the unanimity needed to ever come into force.

This morning, Le Monde noted (in French) two other possible scenarios:

– The European Commission and Canada agree to officially reopen negotiations to modify the aspects of CETA problematic in Wallonia (and others in Europe). then walk away for several months or several years of discussion.

– CETA negotiations are officially buried due to a lack of consensus on the European side and/or an unwillingness to renegotiate on the Canadian side.