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UPDATE: Meetings planned for the European Parliament today

STRASBOURG, 10:45 am pm (4:45 am ET) – We are here at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France today to raise concerns about the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with as many representatives within the 736-seat body as possible. So far, we have meetings lined up with the Greens/ European Free Alliance (that have 55 seats) and European United Left/ Nordic Green Left (with 35 seats). We are seeking a meeting with the European Peoples Party, the largest party in the European Parliament with 265 seats.

In terms of water, the main points we want to raise with MEPs include:

– European negotiators – undoubtedly influenced by the French transnational corporations Veolia and Suez – want drinking water and sanitation covered by CETA (in the services, investment and procurement chapters), Canadian federal and provincial negotiators are not ruling out this prospect, suggesting this could secure gains in other areas and could still be managed through regulatory means. The European Union has worked closely with transnationals that profit from water to develop its trade policies. At a November 2001 meeting of the World Trade Organization in Doha, Qatar, then EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy inserted a clause into the final text of a resolution to call for “the reduction or, as appropriate, elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services (including water services).”

– If water is included in the services chapter of CETA that would severely reduce the level of government involvement in this area. It means the ability to regulate would become seriously compromised, and governments could not place limits on the type, quantity and size of investment by private water corporations. Municipal water utilities would be at risk of being privatized. If water were included in the investment chapter and covered by the investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism, then transnational water corporations like Veolia and Suez could sue the federal government if federal, provincial or municipal regulations interfered with their profits. If water were included in the procurement chapter this would severely restrict how public money was spent by and/or for municipal water utilities for needed goods and services.

– Clearly this is the wrong direction to go and would provide no economic or social gains for the public. Here in France, more than 40 municipalities and urban communities have taken their water services back from private, for-profit operators over the last ten years, and are delivering improved, less-costly services. On January 1, 2010, Paris remunicipalized its water system after 25 years of private control. On the first anniversary of this, they announced that by spring water rates in Paris could drop by 5-10 percent. Including water in CETA would go against this positive trend and only benefit the large transnationals that profit from the sale of water and sanitation services.

– A new European civil society statement in opposition to CETA says, “The EU is today the spearhead of public service privatisation (in telecommunications, postal services, electricity, water distribution, etc.). It sees in the Canadian public markets new opportunities for its big multinationals (e.g. Veolia). CETA threatens to include an extensive interpretation of public services that are targeted for liberalisation and privatisation, since it would automatically cover all public services except those actively listed as exceptions (the negative list approach). Moreover, it would be almost impossible for local and national authorities in Europe to roll back liberalisation policies where they find that they have failed (e.g. the remunicipalisation of water services in France), as they would face the threat of action by multinationals to protect their interests through the dispute resolution mechanism.”

With respect to the tar sands, we want to tell them:

– The European Parliament voted last spring expressing concern about the carbon impact of the tar sands, as well as their impact on water and Indigenous peoples. The European Commission’s sustainability impact assessment of CETA says that the deal would promote more European investment in the tar sands, more extraction, more imports to Europe, more environmental destruction.

– The European Union wants Canada to commit to deeper emission reductions to address climate change. But Canada is resisting that. Canada has already broken its legally binding commitments with the Kyoto Protocol. Canada had pledged under Kyoto to a 6 percent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2012. Between 1990 and 2007 Canada’s emissions increased about 26 percent. Canada was also active at the recent Cancun climate conference in killing binding emissions in the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol. Canada’s climate policy is driven by allowing for expansion of the tar sands. So is Canada’s trade policy. And a Canada-EU CETA is a big part of achieving that.

– CETA could provide an investor-state tool that allows corporations to sue over public policy implemented for the public good. Canada has paid more than $150 million to corporations due to a similar provision in NAFTA. CETA could be used by corporations to limit government actions to limit the tar sands, and even to stop government policy limiting the enormous use of water by the corporations in the tar sands. The recent settlement with AbitiBowater sets a dangerous precedent for compensation related to ‘water rights’.

– The European civil society statement says, “Together with European oil companies, Canada has already used CETA talks as an opportunity to lobby against European action that would keep oil derived from Canadian tar sands out of Europe. EU has passed a ‘Fuel Quality Directive’ (FQD), aimed at encouraging the use of low carbon energy products and discouraging the use of high-emission crude oil. Although already insufficient, Canada managed to influence the directive thanks to intensive lobbying: a recent proposal for the implementation of the FQD assigns a single value for emissions from all transport fuels extracted from oil, helping to mask carbon-intensive crude like the tar sands. Similarly, a recent October draft of CETA text includes establishing a goods trade that forbids countries to discriminate between more or less carbon-intensive versions of the same product. This will close off further debate about how to reduce emissions, for example by distinguishing them according to their production and processing methods. On the other side, under the dispute resolution mechanism, attempts by the Canadian government to regulate the extent or pace of tar sands development by EU-based companies would be vulnerable to challenge. Environmental or conservation measures such as limiting the amount of water used for production, which directly or indirectly affect current or future profitability, would also be open to challenge.”

Today’s meetings will be an opportunity to say to European MEPs that Canadian and European negotiators should step back from the CETA talks and that this whole enterprise go to parliaments and to public consultations for full disclosure and debate. This message will be delivered by a delegation of groups including the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the National Farmers Union, and the Indigenous Environmental Network.