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Six European Union member states still undecided on CETA

Photo: Slovenian prime minister Miro Cerar reportedly has concerns about the water provisions in CETA.

Six member states may not yet ready to back the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) at a crucial meeting on October 18. Those countries are Austria, Germany, Belgium, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania.

  • Austria and Germany – have been waiting for a ruling from Germany’s constitutional court on the legality of provisional application

  • Belgium – has not secured the permission of the parliaments of Wallonia and Brussels-Capital Region to approve CETA

  • Slovenia – has signalled their concerns about CETA provisions on the exploitation of water resources

  • Bulgaria and Romania – have upheld their reservations over Canada’s failure to lift visa requirements for their citizens

The Council of the European Union is scheduled to hold a meeting on October 18 to approve three draft decisions on the signature, provisional application and conclusion on CETA. EU Trade Insights reports, “All three decisions require a qualified majority for adoption by the Council. But a senior European Union diplomat said a common accord would be sought. ‘It is important that there is a consensus on the three elements of the package’, he said.”

This morning, Deutsche Welle reports that the German constitutional court in Karlsruhe ruled that the German government can sign CETA but “only on the condition that Germany can leave CETA again if forced to do so by a later Karlsruhe judgment.” German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who appeared in court on Wednesday to plead in favour of CETA, says that Germany can meet this condition. There is no update yet as to whether Austrian chancellor Christian Kern will now agree to CETA given he has also expressed concerns about the proposed side declaration for CETA.

Yesterday, Reuters reported, “Southern Belgium is set to block a planned EU-Canada free trade agreement. Belgium’s federal government favours the pact, but needs the backing of the country’s three regions and linguistic communities to give its formal approval. Lawmakers in French-speaking Wallonia, except Prime Minister Charles Michel’s liberal MR, oppose CETA because they see it as a threat to farmers, through a flood of imported pork and beef, and public services and over its system of investor protection.”

Also yesterday, the Slovenian news agency reported, “Slovenia was one of the five EU member states which still harbour concerns over the joint interpretative declaration on the CETA free trade agreement between the EU and Canada at Wednesday’s meeting of EU member state ambassadors in Brussels.” In late-September, the news agency also reported, “Slovenia harbours concerns about the provisions on the exploitation of water resources in the proposed free trade agreement between the EU and Canada, CETA, shows a government document obtained by the STA.”

And in May, EurActiv reported, “Bulgaria and Romania will find it very difficult to ratify [CETA] because of the refusal by Ottawa to lift the visa requirement for their nationals, and have proposed the accord be postponed. Ottawa has not delivered on its promise to solve the issue, contained in the statement of the 2014 EU-Canada summit.”

While it appears relatively certain that Germany will agree to CETA, it’s unclear the position Austria will take, whether Bulgaria and Romania will be satisfied with Canada’s position on visas, or what Slovenia will do given their concerns. If Brussels-Capital Region minister-president Rudi Vervoort and Walloon Region minister-president Paul Magnette continue to refuse to give their permission to the Belgian government, it would be next to impossible for Belgium to sign CETA.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to join with European leaders in Brussels on October 27 to sign CETA.

The European Parliament’s international trade committee is now scheduled to vote on CETA on December 5. Following that, CETA is tentatively scheduled to be voted on by the full European Parliament in either December or January 2017.

If it is approved at both the Council of the European Union meeting on October 18 and at the European Parliament this coming December/January, it is believed that the majority of CETA would be provisionally applied. It appears though that its investment protection provision may not be provisionally applied (this remains to be seen).

CETA would still need to be formally ratified in the national legislatures of the 28 European Union member states. That process could take 2-3 years.