Singapore deal needs national approval, EU lawyer says
By Eszter Zalan
The EU-Singapore trade deal must be concluded by member states and ratified by EU countries' parliaments, an advocate general at the EU's top court said in an opinion published on Wednesday (21 December).
The advisory opinion, if followed by a subsequent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling next year, could mean complex trade deals will not only have to be approved by EU institutions, but also by parliaments across the union, slowing down the process.
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This could affect the EU's trade policy, and a possible trade deal with the UK after Brexit.
The commission, which concluded a trade deal with Singapore in October 2014, asked the ECJ if the EU has exclusive competence to conclude the agreement.
The deal is still waiting for approval from EU governments and the European Parliament.
EU governments argued that the ratification could not be fast-tracked, as the accord includes issues where powers are shared between the EU and member states.
Advocate general Eleanor Sharpston, in her opinion, outlined specific measures in the Singapore deal that involved shared competences, including trade in transport services, public procurement for transport services, intellectual property rights, and labour and environmental standards.
Dispute settlement, mediation and transparency mechanisms should also be considered as shared competences, she wrote.
"While the Advocate General notes that difficulties may arise from a ratification process involving all of the member states alongside the EU, she considers that that cannot affect the question of who has competence to conclude the agreement," the court said in a statement.
Impacts on trade policy
Last October, the government of the Belgian region of Wallonia almost torpedoed an EU-Canada trade deal (Ceta) when it presented last minute demands for changes.
In certain international agreements the EU has exclusive competence, after the EU states task the commission with negotiating the agreement, and ratification is only needed by the EU institutions - the EU Council representing member states and the European Parliament.
In so-called "mixed agreements", where the EU and member states share competencies, all must give their consent.
The commission initially said that Ceta was an "EU-only" agreement but decided to make it a "mixed" agreement after a public outcry.
The advocate general's opinion could also affect a possible trade deal between the EU and the UK after it leaves the bloc.
It could mean that Britain faces the task of getting agreements from 27 national parliaments, and in some cases regional lawmakers, to secure wide-ranging trade agreement with the EU.
An EU commission spokesman said the EU executive saw the lawyer's opinion as an "important element contributing to the court's reflection".
But he added that "it must be clear that no definitive conclusions can be drawn until the court itself issues its final opinion".
Shira Stanton, of lobby group Greenpeace, said in a statement they were "fairly confident" that the ECJ would reach the same conclusion.
"The European Parliament and the commission should not ignore this opinion, and should wait for the court’s final decision in 2017 before taking any further decision on Ceta," she said.