MEPs approve Canada trade deal amid protest
By Eszter Zalan
MEPs approved the EU-Canada trade deal on Wednesday (15 February), paving the way for provisional application of the accord to start as early as next month.
The European Parliament voted 408 in favour, 254 against, and 33 abstaining for the Ceta deal after an emotional debate in the plenary, during which opponents of the deal accused its supporters of putting multinational corporations' interests ahead of EU citizens, while those backing the deal charged critics of isolationism and populism.
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The vote took place amid loud "Stop Ceta" chants from the chamber's galleries, as some MEPs opposing the deal joined in.
Several hundred demonstrators also protested against the deal in front of the parliament's Strasbourg building, in the presence of heavy security.
In the heated debate MEP Artis Pabriks, rapporteur for Ceta, argued that the deal represents a choice between protectionism and openness, and represent a "golden standard" for world trade.
He admitted that the deal, which removes 98 percent of tariffs between Canada and the EU and is estimated to save €500 million for European exporters annually, is not a cure for all the problems of workers and small and medium-sized businesses. But it is not meant to do that.
"Please do not bark at the wrong tree," he said.
Pabriks said that the far-right and the far-left in the parliament are united against everything that is good for the EU.
"If somebody is taking away the jobs, if somebody is taking the wealth of people of Europe ... then turn to these radicals on both sides," he said.
Green MEP Yannick Jadot however argued that it is the deal itself that is “feeding the fire of the extreme right”.
“If we don’t want Brexit or more Trump or more extreme right, we have to make Europe the pillar of public regulation for globalisation, meaning human rights, social rights, environmental rights above trade and investment rights, and Ceta is exactly the opposite,” he said.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen called Ceta a terrible agreement that undermines jobs by removing tariffs.
"Are you not ashamed? You are giving away our rights to legislate, you are robbing citizens the protection of their rights that they expect from their representatives. [...] You’re making it possible for multinationals to attack member states making sure that no new legislation will displease them," she argued.
Anne-Marie Mineur from the leftist GUE group said that Ceta is a threat for everyone. "Ceta is a bad agreement, just good for multinationals," she said.
During the debate EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem argued that trade has made the EU the biggest economy in the world. She said countries are queuing up to trade with the EU but are now waiting to see if Europe is open for business.
"This is not business as usual," Malmstroem said.
She said that exports to Canada today already support around 900,000 jobs in Europe, and the deal will open more business opportunities for approximately 70,000 European companies exporting to Canada, with 80 percent of those being small and medium-sized enterprises.
Malmstroem argued that standards and EU states' right to regulate will not be hampered by Ceta.
"Nothing in this agreement undermines governments' right to regulate in the public interest. Nothing in this agreement affects the safety of food we eat or products we buy. Nothing prevents governments from providing public services or bringing these services back to the public domain if they had been privatised," she said, adding that MEPs will be involved in the implementation.
National parliaments in all EU member states will have to ratify the accord for it to be fully implemented. Some chapters, for instance the controversial investor court system, will not be applied until all member countries ratify it.
The ratification could take years, and the deal could still be challenged at the EU's top court.
Belgium, in a deal with its French-speaking Wallonia region to gain support for the federal government signing the agreement, pledged that it would ask the European Court of Justice to see if Ceta is in line with EU law.
Malmstroem, in a press conference after the vote, said the EU is looking at opening trade negotiations with 18 to 19 more countries.
She also highlighted the responsibility of the member states, pointing out that no trade negotiation can start without the unanimous consent of all EU countries.
Malmstroem admitted that there is skepticism about trade in Europe now, but warned that EU countries have to do their part in engaging citizens.
"Member states have to do their homework. After the negotiating mandate is given, they can start reaching out to citizens, there is time to engage the NGOs, civil societies, trade unions, national and regional parliaments," she said.
"That consultation cannot start at 5 to midnight. [It] has to start from [the] beginning," she said in a thinly veiled message to Belgium.
MEPs voted a day before Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau pays a visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday.