Wallonia leader rejects EU deadline on Canada
By Eric Maurice
Belgium's French-speaking Wallonia region will not approve the EU-Canada trade deal before a Friday deadline set by the EU, regional minister-president Paul Magnette has said.
"We won't be able to sign before Friday," he told Belgian public radio RTBF on Wednesday morning (19 October), adding that he realised this would have political consequences.
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Magnette, a centre-left politician, said that the demand was "not reasonable" and denounced a "pressure agenda".
Last week Wallonia's parliament adopted a resolution opposing the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta).
Magnette said the agreement was now "unravelling" and that a few months were needed to "reopen the negotiation".
"An interpretative declaration is not enough," he said, pouring cold water on EU effort to address Wallonia's concerns through an annexe document to the treaty.
EU trade ministers and the European Commission at a meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday gave the Belgian region until the end of this week's EU summit, on Friday, to give its consent to the deal.
Belgium's federal government needs the consent of all the country's regional entities to sign international trade deals, and the EU needs unanimity of its 28 member states.
The formal signing ceremony of Ceta is scheduled for next week at a EU-Canada summit in Brussels.
But Magnette said on Wednesday that it would be "reasonable" to postpone the summit without a date.
"It's better to avoid what would appear as a confrontation," he said.
He said Canadians were "our friends" and that Wallonia's government has nothing against trade deals, but that it could "not accept everything".
The Walloon leader said that Ceta was a "real threat to social and environmental standards and sustainable development" even if progress had been made in recent days.
He said that under the agreement, for example, government would be exposed to pay compensation to multinationals if they adopt new standards which are not planned by the deal
"This is the absolute limit of the respect for democracy," he said.
He said he had obtained the right for government to attack companies that do not respect social and environmental standards and to avoid having to pay compensations
But he said his region still had other concerns.
He said that the settlement court included in the agreement was shocking because it would bypass the normal judiciary.
He said Wallonia wanted the EU to benefit from a clause that would allow Canada to protect itself against massive European agricultural imports.
He also pointed out that another clause that would allow US firms established in Canada to benefit from free-trade with the EU was not clear and protective of EU's interests enough.
Magnette said that dialogue with the European Commission, which negotiates international trade deals on behalf of the member states, was "useful and polite".
But he pointed out that until earlier this month the EU executive did not hear Wallonia's concerns and only said that Walloons did not understand the deal.
The Walloon leader will be under strong pressure in the coming days, with EU leaders expecting to be able to sign Ceta next week. The Belgian prime minister and foreign minister, Charles Michel and Didier Reynders, are themselves supporters of the deal.
On Tuesday, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said "the credibility of the EU to conduct trade deals" was at stake.
Ceta will be discussed at the summit and on the margins, a top EU official said on Tuesday.
He said that the objective would be to "find a way forward together will Belgium, a solution satisfactory to everyone, including to Wallonia".
He added that the EU could not imagine yet what would happen if Wallonia still refused to budge.