Friday

23rd Feb 2018

Opinion

Wallonia's heroic stand against Ceta is a stand for democracy

  • Wallonia's brave stand has shown that the people of Europe want a real debate about the content of this treaty and the future of EU trade policy as a whole. (Photo: Campact)

For a short time, they were like the plucky Gauls of the Asterix series, a small region in Belgium holding out against a legion of countries ready to sign a transatlantic trade deal.

But, it seems the pressures and ultimatums on the Walloon government have cleared the way for the Belgian federal government to sign the Canada-EU trade deal (Ceta).

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The debate, though, is far from over. In exchange for ending their veto, the Walloon government has sought the opinion of the European Court of Justice on whether investors' rights enshrined in Ceta are legal under European law.

Wallonia maintains its objection to the investor-state arbitration system and retains the power to not ratify the agreement at a later stage.

It is fair to say most Europeans hadn't even heard of Wallonia until recently, but its stand against Ceta led to unprecedented invective against the region, with its politicians accused of political grandstanding or reactionary anti-globalization sentiments.

Former trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said Wallonia's actions put "a dagger at the heart of European trade policy", arguing it was time to end the scrutiny of trade treaties by national parliaments.

Few with the courage to object

If the answer to an expression of democratic will is to seek to subvert it, European leaders clearly are yet to learn the lessons of Brexit and the Greek financial crisis.

Wallonia was far from alone in its opposition to Ceta; 2095 municipalities and local authorities (including Amsterdam, Cologne, Edinburgh, Grenoble, Barcelona, Milan and Vienna) declared their cities and counties Ceta - and TTIP-free zones.

More than 3.4 million European citizens signed petitions. National governments too, such as Germany, Austria, Poland and the Netherlands, shared many of Walloon's concerns about investor rights; but had not shared the same courage to block the deal.

Unlike many European parliaments, the Walloon parliament was also one of the few that took time to study the 1600 pages long treaty and analyse its possible impacts.

The parliament held extensive debates and expert hearings over 18 months, raising concerns over negative impacts on public services, agriculture, food standards, and the EU's precautionary principle.

Their biggest concern was that the treaty would grant foreign companies the right to sue governments at international arbitration tribunals for legislating in the public interest. As early as 2014, the Walloon parliament stated that "arbitration has to be taken out of Ceta, it cannot be reformed, it's a matter of principle, it has to be taken out".

Rather than listen to the Walloon parliament, and the millions expressing similar concerns across Europe, the European Commission responded by introducing minor procedural reforms to the 'investor-state dispute settlement mechanism' and rebranding it as the 'investment court system'.

The new proposed system still allows companies to bypass domestic court systems.

It does not prevent companies from challenging government decisions to protect health or the environment nor prevent arbitrators from deciding in favour of investors and ordering billions of euros in compensation. It can still put a chill on regulation, as governments fear spending public money on multimillion-euro lawsuits.

Disputed dispute resolution system

When the Walloon parliament rejected the commission's cosmetic reforms, asking for "a dispute resolution mechanism that prioritises state-to-state based on existing public courts," they were treated with disdain by commission officials.

Ignoring their concerns, the commission simply developed numerous clarifications that only restate or slightly rephrase the content of the flawed text of the agreement.

It has been typical of the commission approach, which treated all opposition to its policies as the product of ignorance rather than substantiated critiques.

EU officials are yet to grasp that the Walloon government and the majority of citizens across Europe reject Ceta precisely because they do understand what is at stake.

Legal experts, from German judges to prominent international trade lawyers have confirmed the threats Ceta and other such trade agreements pose to regulation in the public interest. Wallonia was not sinking a trade deal; it was protecting democracy for all of us.

Even if Ceta is signed, there is still a long process ahead, as it must be ratified in each parliament of every EU member state.

Wallonia's brave stand has shown that the people of Europe want a real debate about the content of this treaty and the future of EU trade policy as a whole.

Cecilia Olivet is a researcher with the Transnational Institute, an international research and advocacy institute based in the Netherlands. She is the co-author of the report Profiting from Injustice and member of the presidential commission established to audit Ecuador's international investment regime.

Belgium breaks Ceta deadlock

[Updated] Belgian leaders signed a joint declaration, clearing the way for the government to sign the EU-Canada trade pact. Wallonia's leader Paul Magnette said it was a victory for his people, and the rest of Europe.

Magazine

Are the EU and US ready for free trade?

While Europe is one singe market, America remains decentralised with different rules and standards, adding extra costs for European companies to enter the US market.

Unfair EU-Canada trade deal is wrong response to Trump

The EU-Canada trade deal, which is to be voted on in the European Parliament next week, cements the inequalities, political exclusion and favours to corporations that feed far-right groups in Europe.

MEPs approve Canada trade deal amid protest

Amid protests in front of the European Parliament's Strasbourg building and after heated debate among MEPs, the landmark trade deal with Canada was approved with a comfortable majority.

News in Brief

  1. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  2. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  3. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  4. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  5. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired
  6. Luxembourg and Ireland pay highest minimum wages
  7. Freedom of expression under threat in Spain, warn MEPs
  8. Report: EU to increase sanctions on Myanmar

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  2. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  3. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  4. European far-right political party risks collapse
  5. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table
  6. EU leaders to kick off post-Brexit budget debate
  7. Greek government's steady steps to exit bailout programme
  8. Frontex: Europe's new law enforcement agency?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?