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European Parliament committee backs CETA, but deal still faces obstacles in ratification process

Council of Canadians chairperson at protest march against CETA, Stuttgart, Germany, September 2016.

The provisional application of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) has cleared two hurdles in Europe, but still faces uncertainty with ratification votes in 38 regional and national parliaments over the next several years.

Reuters reports, “The EU-Canada free trade deal received backing from a committee of the European Parliament and Germany’s top court on [January 12]. The parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee voted 40 to 24 for a motion saying the 751-seat parliament should back the deal. Parliament’s trade committee is the lead body responsible for CETA, but before it holds a vote in January, other committees are allowed to offer their opinions. The employment committee recommended in December that the deal be rejected, saying it risked job losses and increased inequality.”

The plenary vote at the European Parliament in Strasbourg is now expected to take place on February 13.

The article adds, “Germany’s Constitutional Court on [January 12] rejected emergency attempts by activists to stop Berlin endorsing the accord before ratification by the national parliaments. In October the Court had given the government the green light to approve CETA, but activists argued that the government had not met the court’s requirements. The campaign group Transport & Environment said lawmakers [have now] missed a vital opportunity to red-flag CETA over a flawed investment tribunal system and toothless environmental provisions.”

While this news isn’t good, CETA still faces an uphill battle to be fully ratified.

In December 2016, a European Court of Justice advocate general wrote that ‘free trade’ agreements must be ratified by all thirty-eight national and regional parliaments in the European Union. The Luxembourg-based court will publish its final ruling in three to six months, but it follows the views of advocate generals in a majority of cases. That ruling would then confirm that EU member states (and regions) other than Belgium could still scuttle CETA.

In October 2016, 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 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.”