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30th Sep 2023

EU wobbles on Canada free trade

  • David Cameron, Canada prime minister Justin Trudeau and Jean-Claude Juncker ((from left to right) shoveling soil at the foot of a small tree during a G7 summit. (Photo: Ken Shimizu / European Union)

The European Commission could make a last-minute U-turn on plans to ratify a Canada free trade deal amid member states’ complaints.

The issue at stake is whether to ratify CETA, the EU-Canada trade pact, via the EU institutions simply, or to give national parliaments a say,

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Several commissioners, including commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, have in the past argued it was enough for the EU Council, represented by the 28 EU trade ministers, and a majority in the European Parliament to conclude the deal.

They said that CETA covers matters that are the exclusive competence of the EU.

But some countries, notably Austria, France and Germany, have said that CETA is a ”mixed” agreement, which also contains provisions that fall under member state responsibility.

Under the mixed model, all 28 EU states’ legislatures would also have to give their approval. That would include, in some cases, devolved parliaments in federal EU states such as Belgium, Germany and Spain, bringing the total figure to 38 separate assemblies.

The German deputy chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, has warned that attempts to bypass national parliaments would provoke anti-trade and eurosceptic sentiment, which is already on the rise in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

French president Francois Hollande and Austrian chancellor Christian Kern have said the same.

Most parliaments are likely to give the deal a green light, but not the ones of the Netherlands and in the Belgian region of Wallonia.

Bulgaria and Romania have also threatened to veto the pact unless Canada grants their citizens visa-free travel.

The commission has said that a ”simple” ratification process by the Council and the European Parliament would be democratic because trade ministers could ask their parliaments on how to vote.

Its legal service has ruled out that CETA is a “mixed” agreement.

Many MEPs also say their vote would provide the necessary parliamentary scrutiny.

But Financial Times reports that Juncker got cold feet after last week’s EU summit, where he failed to receive the support of heads of government for his point of view.

Other media report that Germany is unhappy with Juncker’s high-handed behaviour ahead of and after the British referendum on EU membership.

Speaking in the margins of last week’s summit, Juncker declared that he ”wasn’t ready to die at the altar of legal issues”.

The college of commissioners will decide on the ratification process during their meeting on Tuesday (5 July).

The commission has in the past asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to clarify the nature and ratification process of a similar agreement, on trade relations with Singapore, but the case has been stuck in court since 2014.

The decision on CETA is also likely to act as a precedent for the future EU-US trade deal, TTIP, that is currently being negotiated.

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