Thursday

13th Dec 2018

Belgian nail-biter threatens EU free trade

  • EU diplomat: "I don’t think the Canadians’ patience is endless" (Photo: dawvon)

EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstroem has undertaken a last-minute mission to save the EU-Canada trade treaty and Europe’s face in the international arena.

Malmstroem was to meet Belgian politician Paul Magnette, the leader of the French-speaking Wallonia region, late on Wednesday (19 October) to unblock its opposition to Ceta, the EU-Canada free-trade accord.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Trade ministers from all EU countries, except Belgium, have approved the deal, which was seven years in the making.

But Wallonia’s opposition threatens to upset plans for Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau to conclude the pact in Brussels next Thursday.

Belgium’s federal government needs Wallonia’s consent to sign Ceta, and the EU needs unanimity to sign with Trudeau.

The Malmstroem-Magnette meeting is part of broader efforts to bring Wallonia on board.

A European Commission spokesperson said on Wednesday that "over the coming hours and days, the commission will pursue its tireless efforts to try to address [Wallonia’s] outstanding concerns”.

The commission hopes to solve the problem by the end of Friday.

A senior EU diplomat warned that Monday would be D-Day. "If by Monday morning we don't have an agreement, Trudeau won’t come," the diplomat said.

Wallonia has rejected Ceta due to concerns about its social and environmental impact.

Magnette has also rejected the Friday deadline.

EU officials had hoped that Wallonia's concerns could be addressed in a joint declaration attached to the trade accord, but that might not be enough for the Walloons.

"Significant challenges remain in the accord, which are not dealt with by interpretative declarations that we have received in recent days," Magnette told the Walloon parliament this week.

Strange situation

EU leaders gathering in Brussels will discuss Ceta on Friday, but there is little they can do.

"It’s a strange situation, because Magnette is not part of the summit, while the[Belgian] federal government agreed to sign the deal. Basically, we don't have a partner on the European Council," a senior EU diplomat said

EU diplomats said Wallonia has failed to clarify demands.

"We haven't heard what Wallonia actually wants. Belgium does not have concrete requests," the diplomat said.

Another senior diplomat voiced concern that the clock is ticking to Trudeau’s visit.

"We all know from the past Belgium's capacity to strike compromises. But I don’t know if it will be enough by the EU-Canada summit," the diplomat said.

The diplomat added: “There is willingness to accommodate the Walloons, but I don’t think the Canadians’ patience is endless”.

Nail-biter

The nail-biting finish to Ceta comes amid EU-US free trade talks and a broader rethink of EU trade policy.

One senior EU source said trade policy used to be “a technical, expert thing”, but that, in the past few years, as in Wallonia, international trade had “gained a high political profile in societies”.

The EU source described the situation as “a critical juncture”.

The source said that if the EU failed to deliver on Ceta, and failed to deliver on TTIP, the US deal, then it would question its credibility in the international trade arena.

Another senior EU diplomat said the bloc should install trade defence instruments to address public concern.

"We need to have instruments to protect ourselves, otherwise we will be seen as naive, and our public will see us as weak," the diplomat said.

Trade defence

The commission, three years ago, already proposed reinforced defence measures, but member states never agreed the package.

The measures are designed to combat practices such as dumping, the sale of goods overseas at artificially low prices.

The EU commission and the European Parliament want to amend the so-called lesser duty rule (LDR) in trade law to enable the EU to impose higher anti-dumping tariffs.

The commission says that, in the case of Chinese steel dumping, for instance, the LDR has limited EU tariffs to 21 percent, while the LDR-free US imposed tariffs of 266 percent.

The UK, among other member states, believe the LDR offers adequate protection.

Diplomats do not expect a change in the UK position or a decision on LDR at the EU summit, but there is pressure to upgrade trade defence to save the EU’s free-trade credentials.

In the draft conclusions of the summit, seen by EUobserver, leaders commit to "safeguard European jobs, ensure fair competition in open markets, and preserve free trade,” adding that “it is of crucial importance that the EU's trade defence instruments are effective in the face of global challenges."

They add that “this requires an urgent and balanced agreement on the modernisation of trade defence instruments, including on the lesser duty rule”.

Wallonia hinders Canada-EU trade deal

The French speaking region of Belgium refused to authorise the federal government to sign the Canada-EU trade deal, wanting guarantees of further negotiation to sooth concerns.

Stakeholder

EU-Canada trade deal is 'value-based'

At the ALDE pre-summit meeting, Syria, Russia, the Turkey migration deal, the refugee crisis and Brexit were among the topics discussed. But Ceta was the big issue.

Greens boycott EU-Morocco vote after lobbying expose

EUobserver has exposed Moroccan lobbying at the European Parliament, prompting a probe to be launched against several MEPs. The Greens have now decided to boycott next week's Morocco trade vote in protest, saying the lobbying investigation must be finished first.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. EU summit hits asylum fatigue as deadlock continues
  2. Battered May seeks Brexit 'assurances' from EU
  3. Lost in Brexit chaos - abortion rights in Northern Ireland
  4. Court confirms EU illegally relaxed diesel emission rules
  5. Orban defies EU with 'rubber-stamp' court
  6. Raw materials: 'holy grail' of 21st century industrial policy
  7. COP24: Vanuatu in 'constant state of emergency' on climate
  8. EU rules out Brexit renegotiation, again

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us