Belgian region still saying No to EU-Canada trade pact
By Eszter Zalan
EU ambassadors are to discuss in a last minute attempt on Monday evening (17 October) how to accomodate Belgium's concerns over the Canada-EU trade agreement (Ceta), after the Wallonian regional parliament rejected the accord last week.
The agreement is due to be adopted by EU trade ministers on Tuesday in Luxembourg, but Belgium and Romania are holding off.
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The Belgian federal government cannot give its consent without Wallonia's authorisation.
Romania is still in talks with Canada over visa-free travel, as visa requirements for Romanian citizens traveling to Canada have made Bucharest reluctant to sign the deal.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is due in Brussels on 27 October to sign the Ceta agreement with the EU.
The EU Commission in July decided that national and regional assemblies should be part of the approval process amid calls by some EU leaders to involve national parliaments more in European policies.
Offcials ruled out using a qualified majority vote to outvote Belgium in the council in order to avoid further stalemate.
The issue could even land on the agenda of EU leaders who gather for a summit on Thursday in Brussels.
EU officials are hoping that tweaking the so-called "joint interpretative declaration", which sets out a common understanding of the agreement with the Canadians, would soothe Wallonia's concerns, however.
But the French-speaking region's Socialist prime minister Paul Magnette is holding out despite international pressure to give the green light.
"Time is needed ... We will need a few extra days," he told the Walloon parliament on Monday.
"This is a very difficult fight, we have sometimes got veiled threats in recent hours," he said about the mounting pressure on his region.
Failing to sign Ceta would be a major embarassment for the EU, as it could lose credibility as a trading partner globally.