By Zoltan Massay-Kosubek, Policy Co-ordinator for Healthy Trade and Trade Equity
Wallonia, the small, French-speaking region of Belgium with its own parliament was the focus for EU trade officials, national governments and the world’s media last month when it pressed pause on CETA, forcing the postponement of the EU-Canada summit and placing the agreement itself in doubt.
Although one of the reasons for dismissing Wallonia’s actions was its size, with 3.5 million inhabitants it is actually more populated than Malta, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia and Lithuania – each of whom also had the sovereign right to refuse CETA.
Now the agreement has been signed, but as CETA is a ‘mixed-agreement’, its full entry into force will be subject to the consent of the European Parliament, of all Member States through the relevant national ratification procedures. But what are the important lessons we can learn from the Wallonian process and how relevant are they for the upcoming ratification process of CETA?
The main lesson for the EU is that the dark age of secret negotiations of trade and investment agreements is over and transparency and democratic principles should be respected throughout the whole ratification process.
The Wallonian concerns are not new. Issues linked to CETA were already raised in the Wallonian Parliament 2 years ago which were confirmed in its 14th October Resolution. The trade negotiators did not react. However, the processes for Belgian assent to the agreement made sure that Wallonia could not no longer be ignored.
Citizens’ concerns and civil society mobilisation made it possible for Wallonian Prime Minister Paul Magnette to withstand the pressure and ultimatums and created policy space for progress.
Wallonia has obtained the maximum concession which could have been achieved at this stage, given that Parliaments were presented with a ‘take it or leave it’ package deal. But it does not mean that the battle over CETA has been won by either side. The final Belgian compromise agreement foresees that Belgium will ask the opinion of the Court of Justice of the European Union about the compatibility of the Investment Court System (ICS) in CETA with EU law. The French and German speaking communities and the Brussels region have made it clear that they do not intend to ratify ICS in its current form.
The controversial ICS system might yet be CETA’s Achilles heel. EPHA’s position on ‘how CETA could undermine public health’ explains that revised investment protection measures will not stop tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy food companies and private investors in public services from trying to block public health laws. So the legal battle over CETA is far from over – on the contrary, it is just about to begin.