The entire trade agenda of the European Union now lies in tatters and needs reworking from scratch. This is an ideal opportunity to create a trade regime that prioritises people, while safe-guarding their health, their rights and the environment.
In a remarkable victory for environment, health and labour rights campaigners, Belgian regional governments including the capital, Brussels, blocked the controversial EU-Canada trade deal CETA today, placing the entire EU trade agenda in jeopardy.
Canada and the EU have been desperately trying to force a conclusion to the deal in the face of strong opposition in Belgium, where four out of five regional governments are opposed to the deal, echoing similar concerns in other member states.
However, last minute talks have failed with Belgium declaring that it cannot sign the deal, and the chair of the EU's trade committee admitting: "CETA has failed." The collapse of ther talks also represents a deep humiliation for the European Commission and its President Jean Claude Juncker.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is now expected to cancel a scheduled trip to Brussels this week, where he was due to sign CETA on 27th October. According to War on Want trade campaigner Mark Dearn, the EU's entire 'free trade' agenda is now "in shreds":
"CETA is anything but a 'progressive' trade deal - in a killer blow to the fight against climate change, CETA has secured the importing of high-polluting tar sands oil from Canada, while it also threatens growth, job losses and declining trade between EU countries. CETA is the last thing Europe or the rest of the world needs right now."
Wallonia joined by Brussels to defeat the deal
What sunk CETA was the sustained objection of Wallonia, the mainly French-speaking region of Belgium, since joined by other regional governments and the city of Brussels - the effective EU capital city. "The federal government, the German community and Flanders said 'yes.' Wallonia, the Brussels city government and the French community said 'no'", explained Belgium's Prime Minister Claude Michel.
Under Belgium's constitution, all five of the country's regional governments have to consent to such an agreement before Belgium can sign up to it. Accordingly, Belgium was forced to veto the deal.
Wallonia's Minister-President Paul Magnette first raised questions about CETA to the Commission more than a year ago. These were ignored, however further complaints by MEPS caused the Commission, Canada and EU Member States to produce a reassuring but non-binding 8-page 'declaration' that their concerns over the 1,600-page treaty were invalid.
After learning that Wallonia had only seven days to scrutinise the CETA 'declaration' and assess its accuracy, Magnette labelled the Commission's timeline "an unacceptable violation of our democratic principles".
Then, last week, a group of MEPs attempted to rush through a vote on CETA before Christmas, foregoing any opportunity for European Parliament committees to scrutinise the wide-ranging deal. The European Commission also made its last desperate push to conclude CETA in the face of stiff opposition across Europe, with Germany and Poland also expressing concerns.
Wallonia stood up to the pressure last Friday, refusing to give its consent to the deal. Canada's trade minister stated that talks to save the deal had failed and that she was "very, very sad".
But over the weekend, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz MEP - who led controversial manoeuvres to force a TTIP resolution through the European Parliament last year - convened emergency meetings with Canada and the Walloon government in an effort to save CETA. Schulz told journalists: "We can't stop at the last mile."
André Antoine, the speaker of the Walloon parliament, told journalists today that Wallonia wanted "transparency and democracy to be respected" in negotiations. On Sunday, Paul Magnette, Wallonia's minister-president, said that the EU's ultimatum was "not compatible with the exercise of democratic rights."
The blame for ther failure, said Mark Dearn, "lies with the European Commission's high-handed and secretive approach to its trade deals, rather than the wholly valid concerns of Belgium's regional governments.
What wrong with CETA?
A study published last month revealed the threat of CETA to jobs, growth and intra-EU trade. This was followed by an admission from trade committee MEPs that the deal's text was flawed and failed to adequately address concerns around workers' rights, public services and the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) 'corporate court' system.
After MEPs criticised flaws in the CETA text, Canada and the European Commission pieced together its controversial 'declaration' in a desperate attempt to save the deal, which both sides refuse to re-open for negotiation.
If CETA ever does pass through its full ratification process, the UK can be sued by US and Canadian corporations under the deal's 'corporate court' investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism for up to 20 years after Brexit.
Dearn concluded: "Canada's trade minister may be 'very, very sad', but there are millions of people in Europe who will be very, very happy. Since talks first started on CETA back in 2009, the deal has sat alongside TTIP as an example of how not to do a trade deal - absolute secrecy, zero input from public interest groups and sheer contempt for the very valid concerns of people across Europe."
Guy Taylor, trade campaigner for Global Justice Now said: "CETA has failed because these secretive negotiations were exposed to be much more about enhancing corporate power rather than about lowering trade barriers, and the toxic trade deal was being railroaded through by an increasingly remote and inflexible EU Commission.
"The entire trade agenda of the European Union now lies in tatters and needs reworking from scratch. This is an ideal opportunity to create a trade regime that prioritises people, while safe-guarding their health, their rights and the environment.
"Three and a half million people told the EU last year that these corporate power grabs were unacceptable. Brussels carried on regardless and now the architects of CETA are tasting the bitter fruits of failure.
"This should be a lesson to Jean-Claude Juncker and Cecilia Malmstrom and other EU politicians that their mandate is to represent people's need not corporate greed."
Oliver Tickell is contributing editor at The Ecologist.
Petition: 'Support Wallonia to stop CETA'.
1. CETA and tar sands oil: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-dearn/trade-deal-predicted-to-s_b_12134140.html
2. Walloons speak out against anti-democratic approach: http://www.politico.eu/pro/wallonia-rejects-eu-canada-trade-deal-ultimatum/
3. Belgium cannot sign CETA (French): http://www.lesoir.be/1350551/article/actualite/belgique/politique/2016-1...
4. Schulz - "we can't stop at the last mile": http://www.politico.eu/article/martin-schulz-in-last-ditch-effort-to-save-ceta-talks/
5. Bernd Lange - "CETA has failed": https://twitter.com/berndlange/status/790541075102531584
6. Schulz's involvement as divided MEPs pass controversial TTIP resolution: http://www.waronwant.org/media/divided-meps-pass-controversial-ttip-resolution
7. Study from Tufts University on the economic impact of CETA on Europe: http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/policy_research/ceta_simulations.html