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European Parliament votes 408-254 in favour of CETA, but major obstacles remain

The European Parliament has just voted 408 in favour, 254 against the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

The Associated Press reports, “Ratification by the European Union parliament, with a 408-254 vote, now paves the way for the agreement to come into force on a provisional basis, meaning over 90 per cent of it could be put into practice within months.” The German newspaper Deutsche Welle adds, “The Greens, the far left, the far right and some Socialists voted against the deal.” And BBC notes, “It means parts of the deal, such as tariff reduction, will come into force eight years after negotiations began. But other, more controversial aspects of the deal, such as the investor court system, will require ratification by EU member states which could take years.”

Yesterday, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow stated, “It is going to pass, but not by the kind of margin it should, given the time it has taken to negotiate and all the effort that has gone into promoting it by the powers that be. Really it should be a landslide for them and it won’t.”

CBC reported, “Barlow said she’s saving her energy for the next fight: votes and possibly referendums in 27 out of the 28 member states. ‘CETA opponents only need one no. CETA proponents need 38 yeses’, she said, referring to all the legislatures across Europe (plus regional governments in Belgium) that will hold ratification votes.”

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.”

This morning’s Associated Press report also notes, “The Netherlands could still block it if it demands an advisory national referendum on the deal.”

That article adds, “The vote comes a day before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to arrive in Europe to celebrate the vote and push the merits of free trade in the face of increasingly hostile, populist opposition. Trudeau is to deliver a pro-trade message in an address to the EU Parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday – a first for a Canadian leader – and to top business leaders a day later in Germany.”