If CETA loses, we all win

24 October 2016

If CETA loses, we all win

Trade treaties such as CETA and TTIP contain numerous vague promises and loose ends. Euro-MP Anne-Marie Mineur supports the Walloons in their struggle against them.

Euro-MP Hans van Baalen of the governing, centre-right VVD, calls CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement that the European Union and Canada hope to sign on Thursday next, a shining example for future free trade negotiations. He speaks most highly of the sections on food safety, product safety, sustainability, animal welfare and the environment. When the fox Van Baalen preaches passion, it’s time to bring the chickens in. The aim of trade agreements like CETA and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is to sweep aside all of the hindrances faced by multinationals in making as much profit as possible. That sounds okay, until you consider that laws protecting people, animals and the environment also count as hindrances.

In the five years since negotiations on the treaty began, European and Canadian multinationals have had front row seats, while citizens and social organisations have been kept out, and even Members of the European Parliament have hardly had a look in when it comes to the procedures. For that reason alone, Van Baalen’s claims are unlikely. But there’s more to it than that. Because of the major role played by corporate business and the bit part given to democracy, what we have is a treaty peppered with vague promises, unclear definitions and loose ends. CETA is said to be a ‘living agreement’, and that means that everything that we set down now, could be changed in as little as a month.

That change is even built into the text. A consultative body must be established in which lobbyists sit around a table with officials to cook up new legislation. They will determine what arrives on that table and what leaves it, before an elected representative can even take a look. In addition, the Court of Arbitration of which Van Baalen is such a big supporter, is being established exclusively for the benefit of foreign investors. It would operate entirely outside the European system of law, and there is no way to have questionable verdicts tested against European law in a European court. Whether the system is compatible with European law is a question which would need to be submitted to the European Court of Justice. Yet no EU institution had the courage to do this, including the European Parliament. So Europe’s fans from the multinationals will be back with still more tall tales. The most bizarre example is the ‘interpretative declaration’ behind which the European Commission is hiding. This statement reads like an advertising brochure on CETA’s many advantages, and has precisely the same legal worth. This is confirmed by professors, legal experts and practicing lawyers, but for CETA’s supporters the declaration is of decisive importance.

On one point I agree with Van Baalen. If the Walloons manage to hold out against the massive onslaught from CETA’s supporters, and the treaty is as a result removed from the agenda, then the European Union’s trade policies will in all probability be kaput. But that isn’t because democracy isn’t working. It’s because democracy is alive, and because it is resisting scandalous attacks of this kind on food safety, product safety, sustainability, animal welfare and the environment, not forgetting the pressure on wages and working conditions. If such a treaty loses, we will all win.

This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, in the daily newspaper Trouw, on 24th October 2016.


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