The Belgian region of Wallonia is holding firm in its opposition to the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
Earlier this week, European trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom had said that if the Council of the European Union (which is comprised of representatives from the 28 member states of the European Union) could not reach an agreement by today, then the CETA signing ceremony scheduled for October 27 would have to be cancelled.
News reports now suggest that negotiations will extend into the weekend to try to reach a deal, but given the depth of concerns that were expressed by Walloon minister-president Paul Magnette in an address to the Wallonian parliament today that prospect is highly unlikely.
Council of Canadians trade campaigner Sujata Dey is in Belgium now and has been following the debate in the Wallonian parliament in Namur.
She tells us that Wallonia is opposed to the negative list approve on services (and wants the right to remunicipalization), is opposed to the investment court system (and wants to ensure that it could not be provisionally applied), says that the side declaration to the deal is insufficient (and wants legally-binding mechanisms in it), is concerned that Belgium does not have provisions within the deal to protect them from a flood of dairy imports (and wants such a provision), and is concerned that there are no protections for Belgian geographic indicators (and wants those in the deal).
Magnette stated this morning, "We have clearly indicated, for more than a year, that we have a real difficulty with the arbitration mechanism, which could be used by multinationals based in Canada, that are not really Canadian companies, and on this point we find the proposals insufficient." And Politico reports, "[Magnette says] the division of responsibilities between the jurisdiction of national courts and the supranational court system in CETA remained too opaque." And the EU Observer quotes Magnette stating, "Difficulties remain, especially on a symbolic and extremely important politically issue: the settlement mechanism. The mechanism is not described with precision. It's like buying a cat in a bag."
Overall, Wallonia sees the deal as a reflection of corporate globalization that gives transnationals immense power over the state.
And Magnette rejects the artificial deadline of having to reach an agreement today or this weekend.
Magnette says, “I plead that, in an amicable way, we jointly postpone the EU-Canada summit and that we give ourselves time." He adds, "We have time constraints. It’s that, at this stage, even if I plead, plead, plead that in a totally amicable way we could agree to push back the Europe-Canada summit and take time to examine things, up until now, I can’t manage to convince them on this point of view."
The EU Observer also quotes Belgian prime minister Charles Michel saying he had "spent the night trying to find formulas, solutions" to this impasse, including talking with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but that no answers were forthcoming.
Following the conclusion of today's Council of the European Union meeting, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker stated, "I do not despair that we will find a solution in the coming days."
But pressure and spin aside, all of this suggests that there will not be a CETA signing ceremony on October 27 – and that instead, if CETA negotiations don't completely collapse, that we could see a period of regrouping and many more months of renegotiating some of the fundamental provisions of the deal.