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16th Feb 2019

German court clears Canada deal, Wallonia still reluctant

  • 'NO CETA', reads a sign between the buildings of the EU Commission and EU Council in Brussels (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Germany's constitutional court ruled on Thursday (13 October) that the government can approve the EU-Canada free trade accord under certain conditions, clearing one obstacle to the signature of the deal.

The Karlsruhe-based court rejected appeals by activists to prevent the government from endorsing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) before it has been ratified by EU national parliaments.

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But it also said that the German government must ensure that only rules that fall under EU powers, such as tariffs, should be allowed to come into force provisionally.

EU officials had said earlier that investor protection courts, which were feared to give too much power to multinational companies over governments, would only be set up after national ratifications are completed.

Germany's top court also said the government should pull out of the agreement, if the provisional application goes against the country's constitution.

In essence, the decision means Berlin can sign the deal.

"I am very pleased that we have made a first big step, because if Europe were not able to deal with Canada, this would send a difficult signal in the world," said economy minister Sigmar Gabriel.

While the ruling might be reason for a sigh of relief by the German government, Ceta is still not a done deal.

Walloon woes

On late Wednesday, Belgium's French-speaking community backed a resolution to prevent the federal government from signing the deal.

The federal government in Belgium needs the approval of all regional assemblies to go ahead with the accord.

Wallonia's president, the socialist Paul Magnette is to meet with French president Francois Hollande on Friday afternoon in Paris.

Hollande, a Socialist like Magnette, will try to pressure him to accept the deal.

However, the Wallonian Socialists are resulctant to cave in. The regional parliament of Wallonia is scheduled to vote on the issue on Friday, and is expected to ask the Wallonian government to reject the deal.

EU trade ministers are due to vote on the accord next Tuesday and the EU and Canada are due to sign the deal at a summit on 27 October.

An EU official said that there were no plans at this point to cancel the meeting in light of the developments in Belgium.

Trudeau frustration

In the meantime, Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau gave vent to some of the frustration with the European ratification process at a press conference with France's prime minister Manuel Valls.

"If the European Union does not approve a landmark free trade deal with Canada, the world will realise the 28-nation bloc is heading down the wrong path," he said on Thursday.

"It is time to decide what the European Union is for," he added, saying that in an increasingly divided and insecure international environment, Ceta could set new standards and bring the EU and Canada closer.

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EU states could sign off the Canada-EU trade deal next week, if the consitutional court in Germany, or a Belgian regional parliament does not stop them.

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Future of CETA largely hangs on the support of Europe’s social democrats. Canada’s trade minister has been touring hotspots of scepticism to convince them that the deal is progressive.

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