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European Union trade ministers to discuss CETA today

The rally outside the EU Council ministers meeting this morning. Photo by Lora Verheecke.

A key discussion on the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will take place today.

The Council of the European Union (where national government ministers from each EU country meet to discuss, amend and adopt laws, and coordinate policies) will be meeting to discuss CETA.

The EU Observer reports, “[European Union trade] ministers will discuss the outcome of the [CETA] with Canada and expect to sign it when Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau comes to Brussels in the autumn. …Both sides are still committed to achieving a ‘high quality agreement’ before the end of the year, according to an EU official.” And The Wall Street Journal adds, “EU trade ministers will meet in Brussels on Friday. They will review negotiations with the U.S. on a sweeping trade agreement, the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and discuss a draft EU-Canada trade pact, which is expected to be signed at a summit in October.”

Digging a little deeper, a media release from the Council of the European Union states: “The Council will discuss a draft trade and investment agreement with Canada. It will assess the outcome of the negotiations and discuss next steps, as concerns signature and provisional application of the agreement. The aim is to sign [CETA] at an EU-Canada summit planned for October 2016. …The Commission has indicated that it will submit a proposal to the Council in June 2016 for signature and provisional application of CETA. The Council will subsequently conclude the agreement, on a proposal from the Commission and with the consent of the European Parliament.”

The media release adds, “The member states are supportive of the agreement. Many have emphasised that they consider it to be of ‘mixed’ competence, and therefore to be ratified also by all relevant national and regional parliaments in the EU. However the text, as prepared by the negotiators, is not of a ‘mixed’ nature. An opinion of the European Court of Justice about the legal nature of a draft free trade agreement with Singapore will be relevant for the agreement with Canada. The Court’s opinion has been requested by the Commission and is not expected before 2017.”

And it notes, “During the legal scrubbing process, new provisions on investment protection and investment dispute settlement were included, comprising an investment court system.”

In February, the provisional agenda for today’s Foreign Affairs Council – Trade meeting had noted, “(poss.) Council Decision on signature and provisional application of [CETA].”

Non-mixed agreement

There is a concern that the European Commission (the EU’s executive body that negotiated CETA) could present the deal as a “non-mixed” agreement today (meaning CETA is considered within the exclusive “competency” or jurisdiction of the EU) and as such the Council could pass CETA with a majority vote (meaning at least 55 per cent of the states – or 16 of the 28 ministers – representing 65 per cent of the European population). If the European Commission chooses to present the deal as a “mixed” agreement (meaning aspects of the agreement involve the “competency” or jurisdiction of EU member states) then the ratification vote by the Council would need unanimous approval (not just 16 of the 28 ministers), which is far less likely to happen.

Provisional application

The French daily newspaper Le Monde has reported that CETA and its controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause could still be “provisionally” applied before the European Parliament vote. The newspaper reports, “If EU ministers agreed at the signing of the CETA on its provisional application, it could come into effect the following month. Such a decision would have serious implications. …This means that even if MEPs rejected and buried CETA at the solemn vote expected in the second half of 2016, the arbitration mechanism in it, though criticized for the threat it poses to the right of governments to regulate, could still be applied for three years.” That said, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström has stated, “Even if the power to decide on provisional application lies with the Council, [I am ready] to ask the Council to delay provisional application until the European Parliament has given its consent.”

We will be watching for the outcome of today’s meeting to inform the next steps in our campaign to stop CETA.