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European Court of Justice advocate-general ruling says trade deals must be ratified by 38 national & regional parliaments

The Council of Canadians welcomes the European Court of Justice ruling that suggests ‘free trade’ agreements must be ratified by all thirty-eight national and regional parliaments in the European Union.

The Guardian reports, “Eleanor Sharpston QC, an advocate general at the European court of justice, argued in a ruling released on Wednesday that an EU trade deal with Singapore could only be finalised by the EU and member states, and not by Brussels institutions acting alone. In practice, this means the deal may have to be ratified by at least 38 national and regional parliaments, including the EU’s 28 national parliaments, at least five regional and linguistic parliaments in Belgium and at least five upper houses, including those of Germany and Italy.”

The ruling states, “While the advocate general notes that difficulties may arise from a ratification process involving all of the member states alongside the EU, she considers that that cannot affect the question of who has competence to conclude the agreement.” Her full opinion can be read here.

The UK edition of The Sun notes, “While Sharpston ruled that the EU was able to ratify parts of the agreement as a single body, she found that member-states’ approval will be needed in the areas including air and maritime transport, labour and environmental standards, social policy, some aspects of intellectual property rights and dispute settlement [which would include the controversial Investment Court System].”

Cambridge University Professor of European Union Law Catherine Barnard says the ruling would hand a veto over ‘free trade’ agreements to a total of 38 national and regional parliaments.

Specifically, this ruling would apply to the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

That confirms that EU member states (and regions) other than Belgium could scuttle CETA. This past October, just after the CETA signing ceremony in Brussels, The Globe and Mail reported, “[It has] emerged [that CETA] could be scrapped at any time before final ratification. [That’s because] the EU and Belgium have now agreed that any one of Belgium’s 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.”

Beyond Belgium, there are indications that CETA is facing a tough road to ratification in several other EU member states. Notably, there will be a referendum in the Netherlands that is likely to produce a strong ‘no to CETA’ vote. The Guardian has also reported, “Activists in the Netherlands have gathered almost two-thirds of the signatures needed to lay the groundwork for a referendum on [CETA]. The petition can only be launched once parliament has ratified the deal, something that is not expected before parliamentary elections due in March 2017.”

Today’s Guardian news report adds, “Sharpston’s opinion does not bind the Luxembourg-based court, which is expected to issue its judgment in early 2017. But the court follows the views of advocate generals in a majority of cases.” Bloomberg notes, “While the opinion is non-binding until a final ruling in several months’ time, the Luxembourg-based court follows such legal advice in the majority of cases.” And The Wall Street Journal highlights, “The ECJ will publish its final ruling in three to six months, which are typically in line with that of its top adviser.”

CETA faces a ratification vote in the European Parliament (now scheduled for February 1-2), but Greenpeace EU trade policy adviser Shira Stanton says, “The European Parliament and the commission should not ignore this opinion, and should wait for the court’s final decision in 2017 before taking any further decision on CETA.”

The Council of Canadians will continue to active in both Canada and Europe to stop CETA and the economic inequality it would bring.