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UPDATE: How would the European Union ratify CETA?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet today with the President of the European Council (Herman von Rompuy), the President of the European Commission (Jose Manuel Barroso), and the President of the European Parliament (Jerzy Buzek) to further talks on the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement deal.

The CBC reports that, “Canada is in the midst of tough negotiations with the EU to secure a free-trade deal. Those discussions are expected to take another year, but Harper’s visit will give him a chance to negotiate some of the broad issues in person…”

To better understand the roles of the three presidents Harper will be meeting with (and the power they may hold in relationship to CETA), in short:

– the President of the European Council (von Rompuy) is the permanent head of the gathering of 27 member leaders that sets the bloc’s policies.

– the President of the European Commission (Barroso) is the appointed president of the EU’s top adminstrative body, he appoints the civil service.

– the President of the European Parliament (Buzek) presides over the debates and activities of the EP, his signature is needed to enact most EU laws and the EU budget.

The European Council is responsible for defining the general political direction and priorities of the EU. It is comprised of the heads of state or government (national leaders) of EU member states. It has no formal legislative power, but deals with major issues.

The European Commission is the executive body of the European Union, so it is poweful, but it is also accountable to the European Parliament and the parliament can veto it and force its president to resign. The European Commissioner for Trade (currently Karel De Gucht) is a member of the European Commission. Actual trade negotiations are reportedly carried out by the Directorate-General for Trade.

The European Parliament (EP) is the directly elected parliamentary institution of the European Union. The Parliament is composed of 736 MEPs (Member of the European Parliament) and members are elected every five years.

The two largest political parties in the EP are the European People’s Party (265 seats) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (184 seats), though neither group holds a majority of seats.

While the EP cannot initiate legislation, it can reject legislation – including presumably the Canada-EU CETA (though this is not entirely clear given Article 133 which governs common commercial policy).

The EP can also pass non-binding resolutions and hold committee hearings. The EP has 22 standing committees of 28-86 MEPs each, including a Committee on International Trade. The trade committee is chaired by Vital Moreira.

And while the European Commission (again the executive body of the EU) has supported the privatization of water services, the European Parliament voted on March 12, 2009 to declare, “that water is a shared resource of mankind and that access to drinking water should constitute a fundamental and universal right.” More on that at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=259.

It should also be noted that on March 22, 2010, the European Union recognized the right to water. More on that at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3334.

And the European Union has pledged to cut its carbon emissions by 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and are demanding that Canada and the US make comparable commitments. More on that at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=2435.

That said, Canada has been lobbying the EU to weaken its draft fuel standards (intended to promote greener fuels) which would inhibit their import of tar sands bitumen. More on that at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3137 and http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3485.

A debate on this issue will be taking place in the European Parliament today, including a presentation there by the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Various news sources note that climate change (without being more specific than that), visas (EU unhappiness that Canada requires visas from those visiting from Bulgaria, Romania, and the Czech Republic), and the Arctic (the EU wants a permanent observer seat on the Arctic Council) will also be discussed at today’s meeting between Harper and the three EU presidents.

As previously noted, the Council of Canadians is looking at having a presence in Brussels the week of July 12-16 for the fourth round of negotiations on the CETA.

This intervention could include a presentation to the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee meeting on July 13.