Austria’s government yesterday (3 October) seemed to have found common ground on a free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada with Chancellor Christian Kern, who has criticised the pact in the past, saying negotiations were on the right track.
Social Democrat Kern’s opposition to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada – which is seen as a test for an EU-US trade deal – had been countered by fervent praise for the deal from his conservative Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner.
The Austrian government’s split mirrors Europe-wide debates about transatlantic free trade deals in which anti-globalisation groups see standards at risk while supporters hope for more jobs and export revenues.
Canada’s trade minister and EU ministers agreed on a legally binding additional declaration in late September to clarify the points which sparked public concerns.
Kern said the government’s “legal demands” would be met if a system which allows companies to sue governments in investment courts not provisionally enter into force but be subject to approval by national parliaments, and if national governments were allowed to decide which services to define as “public”.
Kern earlier had voiced concern that the deals could allow companies to challenge public policies if they felt regulations put them at a disadvantage, and that they might harm social and environmental standards in Europe.
“There is thus no further obstacle to a joint Austrian government line ,” Economy Minister Mitterlehner said. “This is a reasonable way for the export nation Austria.”
Diplomats told EURACTIV.com that hurdles to the CETA ratification were lifted at the informal meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on Trade in Bratislava, on 23 September.
Bulgaria and Romania, who had made it clear they would veto CETA because of the failure by Ottawa to lift the visa requirement for their nationals, will receive roadmaps leading to a solution of the issue.
EU ministers are expected to convene an extraordinary meeting on 18 October, allowing the deal to be signed during the visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Brussels on 27 October. It could provisionally enter force early next year.