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Wallonia warns it may not ratify Canada-European Union CETA ‘free trade’ deal

Magnette with anti-CETA activists, October 2016.

Paul Magnette, the minister-president of the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia, has warned it may not ratify the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which puts the ratification of the controversial ‘free trade’ agreement in doubt.

In order to be fully implemented, CETA must be ratified by 38 national and regional legislatures, including the Wallonian parliament.

On February 27, The Daily Express reported, “Magnette said CETA ‘may never come into force’ as he hit out at the European Union for leaving citizens vulnerable to globalization. Magnette warned even though the CETA deal had been signed, it could still fail to pass the ratification stage. He added: ‘Nothing has yet been acquired. We signed only under conditions. For us Walloons, if some of the conditions are not fulfilled, we will not ratify it. In reality, CETA may never come into force definitively.'”

Now, The Brussels Times reports, “Magnette acknowledged [on March 7] the difficulties for the federal government in implementing the fiercely negotiated intra-Belgian agreement in the autumn by Wallonia. In giving the green light [for the signing of the deal], Wallonia had in particular demanded that Belgium asked the European Court of Justice to rule upon certain aspects of the commercial agreement’s compliance with the European treaties, before any ratification of CETA. These issues, which are due to be included in a report by the federal government, are currently subject to negotiations between the Walloon and federal governments.”

The article highlights, “[Magnette] laments that, ‘Many [at the federal level] continue to minimize’ the relevance of the approach demanded by Wallonia. He warned, ‘However, whilst we are awaiting the responses from the European Court, we will not ratify the agreement in full’.”

And The Brussels Times notes, “Magnette also stated that the Walloons were not the most anxious to see the treaty applied in its entirety. The Minister-President recalled that Wallonia had only given the green light to the signature of CETA after receiving an undertaking that nineteen commitments would be embodied into the agreement. He concluded, ‘We want these provisions to be fully integrated into the agreement otherwise we will not ratify the treaty.'”

In addition, the Belgian prime minister Charles Michel this week rejected the approach of US President Donald Trump and French right-wing leader Marine Le Pen. Michel says, “There is a silly reasoning that one should withdraw into oneself, that is the thesis carried by the left or the extreme left, by the right and by the extreme right, it is the two extremes that meet to fight. In the same way that it was the Left and the Far Left, it was Marine Le Pen in Europe that criticized initiatives like trade agreements.” A spokesperson for the prime minister later clarified Michel was not likening Magnette to Le Pen.

Le Soir reports (in French), “For his part, Magnette believes that ‘implicit or explicit, this kind of comparison with the extreme right, aimed at discrediting an opponent, is used when one is short of argument’. The Walloon Minister-President considers that the political debate ‘is better than that’ and deserves a ‘more respectful’ approach.”

After the European Parliament voted 408-254 in favour of CETA on February 15, CBC quoted Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow stating, “CETA opponents only need one no. CETA proponents need 38 yeses.”

In October 2016, just after the CETA signing ceremony in Brussels, The Globe and Mail reported, “[It has] emerged [that CETA] could be scrapped at any time before final ratification. [That’s because] the EU and Belgium have now agreed that any one of Belgium’s regions can scrap CETA at any time before the final ratification vote if MPs don’t believe CETA is working. That would effectively kill the treaty because it would mean Belgium couldn’t ratify it.”

It has also been argued that even the current provisional application of part of CETA can be undone should any EU member state reject CETA.