Austrian chancellor Christian Kern, Brussels-Capital Region minister-president Rudi Vervoort and Walloon Region minister-president Paul Magnette will play a critical role in determining the fate of CETA this coming week.
A German court ruling on October 13, Austria’s interpretation of a proposed side agreement, and ongoing opposition in two regions of Belgium are all critical factors in whether the Council of the European Union will have the unanimous support it needs on October 18 to then move forward with the signing of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) as planned at a Canada-EU summit in Brussels on October 27.
German court ruling
Reuters reports, “Austria’s chancellor, who has expressed objections to a trade deal between the European Union and Canada that is due to be signed this month, has said that a German court ruling [on October 13] will strongly influence whether it goes through. Chancellor Christian Kern is keeping other countries guessing on whether Austria will give its final approval for [CETA]. EU ministers in charge of trade are expected to vote on the deal on October 18 before a planned signing at an EU-Canada summit [in Brussels with European leaders and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] on October 27.”
In August, Reuters had reported, “Activists delivered what they said was Germany’s biggest-ever public complaint to the Constitutional Court on [August 31], hoping it will scupper a trade agreement between the European Union and Canada. …The three German groups – Campact, foodwatch and More Democracy – arrived at the Karlsruhe court with a lorry containing 70 boxes of documents with 125,000 signatures. They argue [CETA] breaches Germany’s constitution and want the court in Karlsruhe to stop the implementation of the deal before (official) ratification by EU states.”
If the Council of the European Union approves CETA on October 18, and the European Parliament ratifies the deal (at some point over the next few months), much of it would provisionally enter into force in early 2017 before EU member state legislatures have the opportunity to vote on it. Our German allies have argued in court that the provisional application of CETA is unconstitutional and dangerous because “it creates a reality” before parliaments can vote on the matter.
Austria and the declaration
The latest Reuters article notes, “While that suggested Austria would follow the German court’s lead, Mr. Kern also said it would depend on negotiations still going on between EU states and Canada on a declaration accompanying CETA in Austria’s decision on the deal. Major points that remain to be settled are whether the declaration will be legally binding and how far-reaching the decisions of investment tribunals created under the pact would be, particularly the damages they could award, Mr. Kern told ATV.”
Almost three weeks ago, Deutsche Welle reported, “European trade ministers appear set to approve [CETA] following a day-long meeting [on September 23] in the Slovakian capital Bratislava. …The ministers said the two sides would put together a declaration spelling out the limits of the pact to dispel public concerns.”
In response, The Council of Canadians commissioned a legal opinion on the proposed declaration by Steven Shrybman. That opinion, released on October 5, found that the European Commission’s proposed declaration would not change the agreement substantially and that the declaration is highly unlikely to meet the demands of the deal’s critics. Shrybman says that a declaratory statement could provide context, but cannot significantly modify the deal. He also asserts that calling the declaration “legally binding” is a false understanding of international law. Shrybman’s legal opinion has now been widely circulated in Europe.
Furthermore, Belgium is not in a position to agree to CETA.
In April, the Parliament of Wallonia passed a resolution opposing the ratification of CETA. And in July, the Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region said it would not change its mind about CETA as long as several conditions remain unmet. Both Brussels-Capital Region and Wallonia have not given Belgium their permission to agree to CETA at the upcoming Council of the European Union meeting.
Reuters is also now reporting, “Slovenia’s government has concerns, Hungary may still put it to a parliamentary vote, while Romania has said its support is conditional on Canada agreeing to a separate deal to allow visa-free travel access.”
If Austria and Belgium opt against agreeing to CETA on October 18, and Slovenia, Hungary and Romania join with them, then there is hope that the Council of the European Union will not have the unanimous support they need to move forward with the signing of CETA as planned on October 27.
For more on our campaign to stop CETA, please click here.