Saturday

21st Jan 2017

Agenda

Ceta, Poland and human rights on the agenda This WEEK

  • A protest against the EU-Canada trade deal Ceta. (Photo: Campact)

Talks aimed at saving an EU-Canada free trade deal ended with failure and tears last Friday, but the quest for a way out of the impasse continues this week.

Belgium’s prime minister Charles Michel meets the country’s regional leaders, including Wallonia’s Paul Magnette, on Monday afternoon.

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Afterwards, he will inform European Council president Donald Tusk whether Belgium will be in a position to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta).

The 27 other EU countries have already given a green light to the deal. Belgium’s federal government supports it as well.

But Wallonia, a French-speaking region in the country’s south, is wary. International trade could hurt European farmers and grants too much power to international corporations, Walloon leaders say.

A failure to bring the region on board would block the EU from ratifying the pact, which has been seven years in the making.

Canada’s trade minister Chrystia Freeland fought against tears last Friday saying she walked out of negotiations with Magnette and that the Walloon leader was impossible to convince.

But Freeland said the next day Canada remained willing to sign the agreement. EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said on Sunday that she hoped Belgium would manage to bring the case to a successful close.

A failure to do so would be a huge embarrassment to the EU, whose capacity to negotiate international trade agreements has been put in doubt.

Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau said he would not come to an EU-Canada summit scheduled for Thursday and Friday (27-28 October) unless Ceta can be signed at the occasion.

Rule of law in Poland

This week could also see a long-lasting conflict between Brussels and Warsaw flare up.

In January this year, the European Commission opened up a probe on the rule of law in Poland, using for the first time a framework created in 2014.

On 27 July, the EU executive presented its findings and declared that the Law and Justice (PiS) government had passed laws posing a “systemic threat” to rule of law. It gave Poland three months to comply with a list of recommendations aimed at restoring the independence of the judicial system.

That deadline expires this week without any of the recommended measures having been implemented.

Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans vowed last week to stand his ground. The EU executive could seek to waive Poland's council voting rights.

Last week, a coalition of more than 90 civil society organisations, including the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and Amnesty International, wrote to Poland’s prime minister Beata Szydlo and president Andrzej Duda, urging them to fulfil the commission’s recommendations.

Poland’s prime minister Beata Szydlo said the commission should be patient when questioned by journalists at Friday’s EU summit in Brussels.

Plenary week

The European Parliament, which is meeting for a plenary session in Strasbourg this week, will discuss and vote on a pact for democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights.

Based on an initiative by Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in’t Veld, the pact - if implemented by the European Commission - would introduce an objective mechanism for monitoring democracy in all the member states and EU institutions.

In’t Veld told EUobserver earlier this year that the commission’s current framework is too arbitrary and comes in too late, that is, only after there is suspicion of serious threats to the rule of law.

The European Parliament will also vote to increase the 2017 EU budget and cap trans fats in food. They will discuss the outcome of last week's EU summit, the commission's 2017 work programme as well as the situation of journalists in Turkey.

On Thursday, the last day of the plenary session, parliamentary leaders will announce the winner of this year's Sakharov Prize, which is awarded to individuals championing freedom of thought.

The finalists to the prize are Can Dundar, the former editor in chief of leading Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, who now lives in exile; Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of Tatars in Crimea; and Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar, two advocates for the Yazidis, a Kurdish religious minority living in Iraq.

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