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Dutch referendum could derail CETA ratification

The States General is the bicameral legislature of the Netherlands, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. It meets at the Binnenhof complex in downtown The Hague.

A referendum in the Netherlands has the potential to derail the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

The Guardian reports, “Activists in the Netherlands have gathered almost two-thirds of the signatures needed to lay the groundwork for a referendum on [CETA]. …Over the past year, the activists have gathered the names of almost 200,000 supporters who have pledged to petition for a referendum on [CETA] once the Dutch parliament has ratified it. Under Dutch law, 300,000 signatures are enough to trigger an advisory vote on any bill passed by parliament. …The petition can only be launched once parliament has ratified the deal, something that is not expected before parliamentary elections due in March.”

The article adds, “If voters reject the bill and turnout tops 30 per cent, the government needs the consent of parliament to proceed, possibly by offering concessions or amendments to reflect the popular will. A referendum defeat would throw up a further obstacle to the ratification of CETA…  A defeat of CETA in the Netherlands would deepen doubt over the ability of an unwieldy EU to negotiate deals on behalf of member states. In April, the Dutch voted ‘no’ to an EU treaty on closer political, military and trade relations with Ukraine.”

This past August, Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI) researcher Niels Jongerius wrote in the New Internationalist, “The Dutch referendum platform, which has already received 175,000 signatures without active campaigning, is widely expected to reach the 300,000 signatures needed to trigger a referendum. …Considering a few months for the relevant authorities to begin practicalities, the Dutch referendum could take place in the fall of 2017. At the moment, all signs point to a popular rejection of CETA, which may cause the entire deal to unravel.”

Also this past summer, The Council of Canadians, TNI and allies released a report on how CETA would impact food safety standards in Europe. We translated the executive summary of that report into Dutch and it is being widely distributed in the Netherlands. In September, an op-ed in the Dutch newspaper de Volksrant (which has a circulation of 250,000 readers) highlighted, “A Dutch version of a study by the Canadian NGO Council of Canadians, showing that the higher standards that apply to our farmers are under pressure from CETA. Our organic and small-scale farmers would face competition from large Canadian agribusinesses to meet lower standards for food safety and animal welfare poorer meat at lower prices.”

The online platform for the TTIP CETA referendum can be found here.

Just after the signing of CETA on October 30, The Globe and Mail reported, “[It has] emerged [that CETA] could be scrapped at any time before final ratification… Final ratification is still required by the European Parliament and the legislatures in each EU member country… The EU and Belgium have now agreed that any one of Belgium’s [three] regions can scrap CETA at any time before the final ratification vote if MPs don’t believe CETA is working… That would effectively kill the treaty because it would mean Belgium couldn’t ratify it.” In fact, any country could scrap CETA during the provisional application period.

Beyond the Netherlands and Belgium, there are indications that CETA could also be rejected by Lithuania, Italy and Austria.

The ratification process in Europe, which involves 38 national and regional parliaments, is expected to take up to 5 years.

For more on our campaign to stop CETA, please click here.