Belgium’s regional parliaments could block an EU-Canada trade deal, officials said Monday (10 October), in a move with implications for future trade talks with the US and a non-EU Britain.
The French-speaking region of Wallonia looks set to vote against the deal, while the support of the Brussels-capital region and the parliament of the country’s French-speaking community is also in doubt.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is due to come to Brussels on October 27 to ink the pact, known as CETA, after EU member states overcame two years of delays to unanimously approve it last month.
The EU-Canada deal must first be backed by the relevant parliaments of all 28 EU member states, including all seven of the parliaments in small but linguistically-divided Belgium.
“Wallonia is in a key position because a refusal on its part would prevent the signature of the treaty,” a source close to the parliament of the Francophone region which covers most of southern Belgium told AFP.
Belgium’s complex political system includes a federal parliament, parliaments for the three regions of Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-capital, and legislatures for Belgium’s Flemish, French and German-speaking communities.
The Walloon parliament, which adopted a motion in 2016 opposing CETA, will hold an extraordinary session on Friday to decide on its stance.
The head of the Wallonia government, socialist Paul Magnette, is cutting short a visit to Japan with the king of Belgium to attend Friday’s debate amid pressure from all sides.
“I have stressed that our disagreement was very justified, especially on commercial practices, agriculture and dispute resolution,” Andre Antoine, the head of Wallonia’s parliament, told Le Soir newspaper on Monday after a trip to Canada.
Activists also charge that the Canada deal will set a dangerous precedent and open the way for a similar but far more ambitious agreement with the United States.
Thousands of protesters marched through Brussels on Tuesday (20 September) to demand the European Union abandon planned transatlantic free trade deals they say will worsen labour conditions and allow big business to challenge governments.
In addition to Wallonia, the Brussels regional government is divided between supporters and opponents of the Canada deal and is waiting for a parliamentary vote.
The parliament of the French-speaking community is meanwhile due to hold a session on the vote on Wednesday after hearing from a committee which is against CETA, Le Soir said.
Belgium’s federal parliament and Flanders in the north of the country have already indicated that they will back the accord.
The problems getting the Canada deal through Belgium’s political maze promise to be a practice run for the even more controversial negotiations over Britain’s exit from the EU.
Whatever deal for Brexit that is agreed by EU states after two years of negotiations expected to start next March must also be passed by all EU parliaments including those in Belgium.