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Opposition to CETA remains strong in Germany

Scott HarrisToday, the Globe and Mail reports, “Germany has dropped its objection to the controversial investor protections in the Canada-Europe free-trade agreement… German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a vocal critic of the deal’s investor-state provisions, now says his country won’t stand in the way of ratification.” Reporter Barrie McKenna adds at the end of his article, “German criticisms of CETA have so far come from Mr. Gabriel’s Social Democratic Party, which is a junior partner in a coalition government with the Christian Democratic Union party led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.”

Germany is governed by a ‘grand coalition’ with the Christian Democrats (with 311 seats) and the Social Democrats (with 193 seats) the two biggest parties in the 631-seat Bundestag.

But the Financial Times is more nuanced in its telling of this. It reports, “Sigmar Gabriel, the German economy minister, told the Bundestag on Thursday that he accepted it would not be possible to drop the controversial clauses from the Canadian agreement… Berlin says it remains opposed to allowing investor-state dispute settlement clauses into any new EU trade agreements.”

And any change of position appears to have come from intensive lobbying. The article notes, “Cecilia Malmström, the new EU trade commissioner, and other trade officials in Brussels have sought in recent weeks to convince Berlin not to block the Canadian deal and that investor protections ought to have a place in a deal with the US.”

EurActiv’s report on this strikes a less triumphalist tone than McKenna when it notes, “German Minister of Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel is clashing with his own party over the EU’s planned free trade agreement with Canada (CETA), calling on Bundestag members to approve the deal despite the controversial investor protection provision. Speaking before the Bundestag on Thursday (27 November), the Economic Affairs Minister encouraged German MPs to vote in favour, despite the inclusion of the highly-debated investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism.”

That article adds, “In doing this, the Social Democratic Party (SPD)’s leader runs the risk of sparking considerable criticism from the party’s left wing. At a party convention [earlier this year], Social Democrats agreed to reject the ISDS provision, which gives corporations the ability to claim compensation for losses from states before a special court.” A spokesperson for the left wing of the Social Democratic Party has commented in response to Mr. Gabriel’s statement, “I assume that Sigmar Gabriel will apply himself with full vigour to the position that was agreed on at the party’s convention.”

And the EurActiv article also notes, “Critics argue large US firms with Canadian subsidiaries and share holdings could use the free trade agreement with Canada to drag countries before courts of arbitration – even if the ISDS clause is taken out of TTIP. A week ago, a coalition of 15 NGOs [including the Council of Canadians] released a report titled Trading Away Democracy. The authors write that Canada has been sued 34 times within the provisions of the NAFTA agreement – at least once a year since 1996.” According to the Financial Times article, “There is widespread hostility in Germany to TTIP, which critics fear will compromise European standards on issues such as food and cosmetics.”

For information on the Council of Canadians campaign against the Canada-EU free trade agreement, please click here.

Photo: Council of Canadians trade campaigner Scott Harris will be in Brussels next month to meet with European allies challenging the Canada-EU ‘free trade’ agreement.