Belgium must vote no tomorrow to stop CETA
Tomorrow trade ministers from EU countries will meet in Luxembourg at the Foreign Affairs Council where they are due to decide whether to approve the EU-Canada trade deal known as CETA.
The TUC and unions across the EU and Canada are calling for governments to oppose the deal.
A ‘joint declaration’ (that has been hastily rewritten a few times) to be added to CETA doesn’t address our concerns. As I wrote previously, the deal still contains special courts and rights for foreign investors, exposes public services to liberalisation commitments and contains no sanctions mechanism to ensure workers’ rights are respected. We also have doubts about the legal application of such a declaration.
While other countries that had been critical of CETA, such as Austria and the Netherlands, have indicated they are willing to support the deal, one region in Belgium may still at this eleventh hour be able to block CETA being signed.
Last Friday the parliament of Wallonia, a region of Belgium, voted against CETA which prevents the Belgian government from agreeing to CETA at the European Council.
If Belgium rejects CETA tomorrow the whole deal will fall as CETA requires support by every EU state to be approved (although not for some parts of it to be ‘provisionally applied’).
There are still question marks about whether the Belgian national government might be able to disregard this vote by coming up with some side deal with Wallonia. However the last few days have shown the power governments have to influence the trade agenda and register public concerns.
Despite intense lobbying by political forces to support the deal (last week the Wallonian Prime Minister was allegedly invited to the Elysée Palace in Paris to meet with President Holland to encourage him to support CETA), the Wallonian government has stood firm and said it cannot support CETA, partly due to concerns about its threat to public services, workers rights and agriculture.
It is important to remember that the Wallonian government would not have opposed CETA were it not for intense campaigning by Belgian trade unions as well as unions across Europe and civil society groups against CETA. Last month the TUC joined the demonstration in Brussels against CETA organised by Belgian trade unions, NGOs and activist groups. Trade union demonstrations against CETA have also taken place recently in many other countries including Austria, Germany and – just last weekend – Poland and Spain.
The TUC has been urging the UK trade secretary Liam Fox to also listen to the concerns of unions and the public and oppose CETA. We are concerned that to date, Fox has been consistently supportive of the deal, setting a bad omen for his approach to potential post-Brexit trade deals.
The TUC is calling for the UK government to engage properly with trade unions and civil society from the start of trade negotiations so they reflect the interests of the public, rather than threaten our rights, services and essential regulations that provide essential protections.
Let’s hope the Belgian government will vote no to CETA tomorrow and set an example for the UK and other countries to follow.
UPDATE (18/10/16): Partial success! Belgium continued to oppose CETA today which prompted the European Council to postpone the vote on the agreement. It has now been announced that the vote will take place at the European Council meeting at the end of the week. Unions will be urging Belgium to stand firm and vote no on Friday to stop CETA for good.