Tuesday

28th Mar 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

Belgian nail-biter threatens EU free trade

Officials have launched an 11th-hour mission to stop Wallonia, a Belgian region, from blocking a major deal with Canada, amid a broader rethink on EU free trade.

Analysis

Lukashenka: End of an era?

The political spring in Belarus ended just as the actual season began, but greater changes loom after 23 years of dictatorship.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The Union under threat

The effect of Brexit will be much more profound on Northern Ireland than on Scotland. Some kind of border controls with Ireland seem inevitable.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The Union under threat

The effect of Brexit will be much more profound on Northern Ireland than on Scotland. Some kind of border controls with Ireland seem inevitable.

News in Brief

  1. Uber pulls out of Denmark over new taxi-regulation
  2. EU court validates sanctions on Russia's Rosneft
  3. Luxembourg to team up with Ireland in Apple tax appeal
  4. EU majority against GM crops, but not enough to block them
  5. Turkish referendum voting starts in Europe
  6. Le Pen says she lacks election funds
  7. UN dinner for Cyprus leaders to restart stalled peace talks
  8. Nato moves summit forward so US can attend

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  2. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  3. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  4. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  5. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  7. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  8. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  9. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  11. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  12. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste