Signaling more trouble ahead for the maligned EU-Canada trade deal known as CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), the European Commission on Tuesday "performed a startling U-turn" in announcing that national parliaments would have to ratify the pact.
As Politico's European bureau pointed out:
The need for approval from almost 40 national and regional assemblies not only threatens to scupper the Canadian deal itself, but delivers an ominous signal to British politicians who insist that the U.K. could negotiate a quick post-Brexit trade accord with the EU.
Previously, the deal was slated for a kind of "fast-track" process that would not have required nation-by-nation approval.
As such, trade campaigners celebrated Tuesday's news, saying the Commission's reversal reflects growing opposition to CETA as well as the similarly toxic TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and Europe.
"Public pressure has forced the European Commission into a humiliating climbdown as they have been prevented from denying a democratic vote on whether to accept the toxic EU-Canada trade deal, CETA," said John Hilary, executive director at the anti-poverty organization War on Want.
"Having worked with European civil society organizations, it's clear that there is a growing resistance to CETA, and that its ratification is not the cakewalk that [Canadian] Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland suggests it will be," added Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.
The Council further explained:
The agreement will now have to be adopted by all the member states, where there is growing opposition. Romania and Bulgaria have said that they will vote against CETA if Canada doesn’t change its visa requirements. In Belgium and Germany, where regional or lower house parliaments would have a say, Wallonia has stated it would reject CETA, and the German lower house, the Bundesrat, is also likely to defeat the agreement. As well, in the Netherlands, citizens are initiating a referendum on CETA. Poland, Slovenia, and Austria have also expressed grave concerns.
And Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden declared: "It's testament to the strength of the campaign we have built across Europe against CETA and its U.S. cousin TTIP, that the Commission has been forced to backtrack and allow national parliaments a vote on CETA."
Still, Dearden warned, "this isn't the end of the story. CETA has been slowed down, but the British government has been pushing for so-called 'provisional implementation' of CETA—which would mean bringing CETA into force now, with the idea that it can be voted on by parliaments at some future, unspecified date. That is clearly not acceptable, and we must stop the British government foisting this toxic deal on us before a vote can be held."
Pushing for provisional implementation, he said, would merely reinforce "the widely-held suspicion that the EU makes big decisions with harmful consequences for ordinary people with very little in the way of democratic process."
In a joint statement on Tuesday, Friends of the Earth Europe, the European Public Services Union, and the European Anti-Poverty Network added their voices to the mix, calling on national parliaments to reject CETA outright. Passing the deal, said Sergio Aires, president of the European Anti-Poverty Network, would "be a very dangerous precedent for TTIP."
That deal, though, appears to also be on the ropes. In the wake of last month's vote, Hilary argued that "Brexit may well be the last straw that broke the TTIP camel's back."
Italy's industry minister said on Tuesday in Rome, "I think [the TTIP] will fall through, and the agreement with Canada is at risk of doing the same. We have been negotiating it for too long."
Also on Tuesday, France's junior minister for trade and commerce, Matthias Fekl, said of the TTIP: "I think a deal in 2016 is impossible and everyone knows it, including those who say otherwise."