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What role will the EU council play in the ratification of CETA?

Photo: A meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council.

Photo: A meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council.

Barrie McKenna writes in the Globe and Mail today that, “Traditionally, the real power in the EU rests with the EU council, which is made up of the 28 EU heads of government. …Experts doubt the Parliament would defy the will of the council. Doing so would effectively take the ‘union’ out of the EU.” He then quotes a researcher from the right-wing C.D. Howe Institute who says, “It would be quite a coup for the European Parliament to go against what has been carefully negotiated collectively, and agreed to, by the 28 EU governments.”

So what is the EU council?

The Council of the European Union is referred to as the Council or the Council of Ministers.

It meets in ten different configurations of twenty-eight national ministers (one per state) depending on the issue under consideration. It would appear that trade falls under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Affairs Council. For a vote to pass here, it must have the support of 50 per cent of the member states, 74 per cent of the voting weight, and 62 per cent of the EU population. By voting weight, this refers to Germany holding 29 votes, Spain 27, Netherlands 13, Sweden 10, Finland 7 and so on.

A couple things to consider here.

1- Corporate Europe Observatory has also pointed out, “15 EU member states are known to have faced one or more investor-state challenges.” They specify, “Czech Republic (20 claims), Poland (14), Slovak Republic (11), Hungary (10), Romania (9), Lithuania (5), Estonia, Germany, Latvia (all 3 claims), Slovenia and Spain (2 claims), Belgium, France, Italy and Portugal (all one claim).” That means a majority of EU member states have experienced investor-state and those examples could be raised with them in reference to CETA.

2- There will be key parliamentary elections in Europe prior to any final ratification vote on CETA. They include Sweden (in September), Bulgaria (October), Finland and Estonia (March), United Kingdom (May), and Portugal and Poland (October). This means about 99 votes in the Foreign Affairs Council are subject to national elections over the next two years.

All that said, the European Parliament may very well vote against an agreement supported by the Council of the European Union. Even McKenna says in his article, “In 2012, for example, the Parliament voted down a global anti-counterfeiting trade agreement.” On this front, we have the Reuters article from yesterday that tells us 341 MEPs – almost a majority in the 751-member European Parliament – could vote against CETA. And some were elected just this past May highlighting their opposition to investor-state and trade deals like CETA.

And we have the possibility (likelihood) that CETA will need to be ratified by the national legislatures of all 28 member countries. If this is the case (look for that decision in about a year’s time), there will be another whole ball game to play in this ratification process.

Stay tuned. As even McKenna has to acknowledge, “It may be a bit too soon for Mr. Harper and [European Commission President] Barroso to take a victory lap when they meet in Ottawa next month.”