EU-US trade deal must have national approval, say MPs
By Benjamin Fox
A landmark free trade agreements between the EU and US should be subject to approval by national parliaments before it can become law, national deputies have told the European Commission.
The demand is contained in a letter sent last week to EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht, signed by parliaments in 16 of the EU's 28 countries, including France, Germany and the UK.
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The move is the latest sign of wariness among lawmakers about the scope enjoyed by the EU executive in drawing up trade deals on behalf of the bloc.
In particular, the letter singles out the provisionally-agreed trade deal with Canada (known as CETA) and ongoing talks with the US on a trade and investment partnership (TTIP) as accords should be considered as 'mixed agreements' because they deal with both EU and national competences and so subject to ratification by domestic parliaments.
Under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, the European Commission is solely responsible for negotiating trade agreements on the EU's behalf. All trade deals then need the consent of MEPs to be ratified.
"Free trade agreements should be considered as mixed agreements, since they concern policy areas which are within the competences of the member states," the letter states.
"For CETA and TTIP...this is the case for policy areas such as services, transport and investor protection."
The French and German governments have already indicated that investor protection rules potentially allowing companies to take legal action against governments should be left in the hands of national courts.
Trade agreements are to be reviewed at the end of the negotiations, whether it is entirely covered by EU competence or also contains chapters which fall under national competence.
The recently agreed EU-South Korea free trade deal was classified as a 'mixed agreement', requiring ratification by all EU countries.
For his part, De Gucht has indicated that he will seek to clarify the legal boundaries of trade policy under Lisbon through an opinion from the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice.
"Such a move would be in the utmost interest of all national and EU institutions to receive legal clarity for the ratification process for all EU trade agreements in the future," EU Trade spokesman John Clancy told EUobserver. He added that De Gucht would give the letter "his highest attention and reply soon".
National ratifications would inevitably lead to slower approval of agreements, although the average EU trade agreement already takes more than three years to negotiate.