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European trade commissioner acknowledges ratification of CETA faces obstacles in 6-8 countries

Canadian trade minister François-Philippe Champagne and European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.

European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom acknowledges that the ratification of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) faces challenges in 6-8 EU member state countries.

The Globe and Mail reports, “Ms. Malmstrom told reporters [in Ottawa on March 21] that it is only a ‘matter of time’ before all 28 countries ratify the deal. ‘All countries have promised to do their utmost to get this through their national parliaments’, she said. She said she foresees no obstacles to ratifying CETA in more than 75 per cent of EU countries. ‘I would say that in 20 to 22 countries, absolutely not a problem – it will pass smoothly’, she told reporters. In the remainder of EU member states, such as Belgium, there is more resistance to legislator approval. ‘There [have] been some countries where this is controversial. It is calming down a little bit’, she said.”

In October 2016, 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.”

In December 2016, The Guardian reported, “Eleanor Sharpston QC, an advocate general at the European court of justice, argued in a ruling that a European Union 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 final European Court of Justice ruling on this may not come until June or July of this year, but it is expected to uphold the advocate general’s view that all 38 national and regional parliaments must ratify CETA for it to be implemented.

Media reports suggest the 6-8 countries where CETA could fail include: Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Italy.

The Globe and Mail adds, “[Malmstrom] says she’s confident the most contentious part of the Canada-EU trade accord – an investment court where businesses can sue governments – will survive a rocky ratification process by the 28-country economic bloc and come into force. It has been a target of criticism and protests during the more than eight years that the Canada-EU deal was in negotiations and cannot go into effect until legislatures in all 28 countries approve it – 38 parliaments across Europe when both national legislatures and regional bodies and chambers are included.”

While the investment court system (ICS) has been spun as a significant reform of the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision, a report by allies (including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Corporate Europe Observatory) found that it would still allow the most controversial ISDS challenges launched under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to proceed.

And while it is being reported that 95 per cent of CETA will be provisionally applied by April, Montreal-based Council of Canadians trade campaigner Sujata Dey has noted, “C-30, the implementing legislation for CETA in Canada, is still in committee in the Senate, and implementing legislation has to be passed by the provinces as well. The EU cannot act without Canada being ready, so implementation by April seems unlikely.”

The other question that has emerged is this: If the full ratification of CETA is blocked by one of the 38 national and regional parliaments, will the provisional application be undone? Dey comments, “This is a contentious issue. The German constitutional court has already ruled that provisional application can be undone. And in the country statements adopted by the European Council (the EU institution comprised of the heads of state or government of the member states, which sets the EU’s overall political direction and priorities) many countries reiterated their right to undo provisional application.”

The Council of Canadians continues to work in Canada — please see this online action alert to help with our effort to stop C-30 — and with our European allies to stop the ratification and full implementation of CETA.