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Will Wallonia and Brussels-Capital Region sink CETA on October 18?

The main entrance to the Walloon Parliament.

Will the Walloon and Brussels-Capital regions of Belgium be a pivotal last line of defence against the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) at a Council of the European Union meeting on October 18?

It appears so.

As noted in this blog, the Parliament of Wallonia passed a resolution in April opposing the ratification of CETA. Paul Magnette, the Minister-President of Wallonia, has stated, “As long as we do not have all the guarantees [of the future dispute settlement body and other red lines laid down by the Walloon Parliament], it will not be possible for us to ratify such a text, and it is not possible to give full powers to the Minister of Foreign Affairs” to sign the Canada-EU agreement.

The resolution also called on the Walloon government to: refuse any provisional implementation of CETA, wait until all national ratification procedures have been completed, give priority to a state to state dispute settlement mechanism based on existing public courts, and ensure that all trade agreements are in compliance with fourteen red lines (which CETA does not currently meet).

And as noted in this blog, the Brussels Times reported this past July, “[The Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region] will not give its green light to ratifying the present version of CETA… The parliament will not change its mind as long as several conditions remain unmet.” Those conditions included demands for: a human rights clause, a generic legally enforceable clause to guarantee compliance with the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, a clause on using so-called “positive lists” in the sphere of liberalization of services (that would exclude general interest services), and social and environmental clauses within public procurement.

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.”

And today, Politico reports, “The Francophone parliament of the Federation of Wallonia-Brussels — only 10 minutes’ walk from EU headquarters — stands to win a place in history for sinking [CETA]. The Federation of Wallonia-Brussels parliament, which focuses on the cultural and educational concerns of 4.5 million French speakers in Belgium, voted Wednesday [October 12] evening to reject CETA because of worries about public services and agriculture. Laetitia Naklicki, a spokesperson for Minister-President Rudy Demotte, said this vote meant that the government of the French-speaking community ‘would not issue its full power for signing CETA to the federal government.'”

That article adds, “Diplomatic sources in Brussels say it is even unclear whether the EU-Canada summit will take place [on October 27] if Belgium has not secured its support by Tuesday [October 18], when trade ministers gather in Luxembourg to vote on CETA’s provisional application, planned for next year.”

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau says Europe would be sending a “deplorable” message if it didn’t agree to CETA, and David Lametti, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of trade, is quoted as saying in Wallonia, “If you refuse this text there will be consequences!”

There had also been some hope that Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Romania may not be ready to sign CETA, but that hope appears to be ebbing.

But there is also Slovenia.

In late-September, the Slovenian news agency 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.” That’s likely because the Slovenian National Assembly voted in July to begin the process of amending the constitution to include the right to safe drinking water. Their constitution could state that drinking water “should not be treated as a commodity” and define the drinking water as a “non-profit public service”.

The European Parliament’s international trade committee is currently 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 CETA were to be approved at both the Council of the European Union meeting on October 18 and at the European Parliament this coming December/January, the Trudeau government had hoped that the majority of CETA would be provisionally applied in early 2017. But while the German constitutional court ruling this morning will not stop Germany from signing CETA, it did rule that the “investment protection” provisions in CETA cannot be provisionally applied, and requested the German government to secure an agreement that allows any EU member state to withdraw from provisional application of CETA.

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.