Sunday

22nd Jan 2017

Opinion

Wallonia is playing with fire, and it risks getting burnt

  • Namur, Wallonia's capital. The loss of international credibility for the Walloon region is their democratic choice, and it is for them to face the consequences. (Photo: Stephane Mignon)

The Greek communist government is ready to sign the Canada trade deal, Ceta. The Walloon socialist government is not.

Much of Europe cannot understand how a region of 3.5 million inhabitants is threatening to derail an international trade deal that will save European exporters hundreds of millions of euros each year.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The Walloon government needs to understand that its decision to oppose Ceta could end up having consequences far beyond this single - albeit very important - agreement.

On the face of it, it might seem like those consequences would not be felt by Wallonia itself. Ninety percent of Belgium's trade to Canada comes not from the Walloon region, but from the engine of the Belgian economy: Flanders.

The only risk to Wallonia is that in sabotaging that Flemish engine it is also risking the part of the Belgian economy that pays for most of Wallonia's welfare.

However, the Walloon parliament needs to understand the impact that this deal will have on the rest of the EU.

Ceta is the best trade deal the EU has negotiated. It opens trade with a highly advanced, liberal democratic and open G7 country, with lower prices for goods, fewer obstacles for exporters, and opportunities for European service companies to bid for work across the Atlantic.

Solidarity questioned

It does so without threatening European standards, or creating a drive to the bottom for social protections. Those who oppose Ceta cannot, with a straight face, stand up and say they are anything but protectionists.

The Walloon parliament has the right to be protectionist, but it has no right to block others who want to get ahead. Moreover, it should remember that he who expects solidarity must also show responsibility.

The Walloon parliament has – during the huge asylum crisis – been quick to chastise the countries of central and eastern Europe for not living up to their responsibility to take refugees from other countries, saying that those countries failing to show asylum solidarity should not count on socio-economic support from the EU.

On that same basis, perhaps the Walloon region should also understand that failing to show any solidarity for a balanced and ground-breaking trade agreement - which will have virtually no impact on them - might see the rest of the EU ask why it is showing such significant levels of solidarity towards them. Such questions are already circulating today in the corridors of the European institutions.

The loss of international credibility for the Walloon region is their democratic choice, and it is for them to face the consequences.

Cut the rowing boat loose

However, more open economies such as Flanders or the Netherlands will rightly ask why the EU’s trade policy requires them to be as protectionist and closed as Wallonia.

If the EU is like a fleet of ships then it can only travel as fast as its slowest ship, and at the moment great cruise liners are seeing themselves being held back by a rowing boat. How long before they decide to cut the rowing boat loose and dash for the horizon?

The vast majority of EU countries passionately believe that this agreement can pave the way to a better future for European jobs and growth, so they will understandably seek to find a way around the Walloon parliament’s decision.

But what does that mean for the future unity of the EU? Already failing to agree a common approach to many of the major challenges facing us, we now have a schism over trade.

The world does not owe us a living. The actions being taken by the Walloon parliament risk the prosperity of the entire continent, and they cast into doubt the vast amounts of financial solidarity the region has enjoyed from both Flanders and the rest of the EU.

It’s the Walloon parliament’s decision to make, but they need to realise that their actions will have many untold consequences.

Sander Loones MEP is vice-president of the largest Flemish Party, the N-VA, and a substitute member on the European Parliament's international trade committee

Opinion

The 89ers and the battle against populism

It falls to the Europeans who were born around 1989 and grew up in a peaceful Europe to build a fresh new vision for the EU that transcends the ideological, educational and national cleavages of the past.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  2. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  4. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  5. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  6. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  7. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  8. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  9. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  10. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London
  11. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhDs Across Europe on the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU - Apply Now!
  12. Dialogue PlatformInterview: Fethullah Gulen Condemns Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey