The European Commission’s announcement that the EU-Canada trade deal will be concluded without the involvement of national parliaments has sparked debate at the EU summit in Brussels and was met with outrage in a number of countries.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reportedly told EU leaders on Tuesday (28 June) that the Commission considers the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) being an “EU-only” agreement and would propose next week (5 July) a simple approval procedure.
The simple procedure means that it will be adopted only by the European Parliament and representatives of member states and not national parliaments.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), talking to the press, said that the Commission can be overruled by the Council. “For Germany, I can say that however it ends we will ask for an opinion from the Bundestag,” she stressed, saying she favoured a mixed agreement whereby national parliaments have a say.
French President François Hollande also opposed the Commission’s proposal and said national parliaments should be allowed to spell their verdict. “I am in favour of an EU-Canada deal, but I believe it is necessary to have debates in each of the national parliaments. That will certainly take longer, but it is part of what we should provide in terms of democratic control,” he said speaking to the press at the end of the EU summit.
In Berlin, German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told EurActiv’s partner Der Tagesspiegel today (29 June) that the Commission risked eating up “any goodwill”.
“The Commission wants to have it its own way when it comes to the free trade agreement with Canada,” Gabriel said. He added that the Commission’s decision is “unbelievably foolish’ and threatens to destroy any feeling of objectivity.
Pushing CETA through in this manner would add fuel to the fire of conspiracy theorists when it comes to planned future free trade agreements, like TTIP. “If the Commission goes about CETA like this, then TTIP is dead,” warned the vice-chancellor.
Juncker on the defensive
Defending the executive, Juncker said that he repeated at the EU summit what he had clearly said at the G7 “where no European leaders contradicted me.”
“The agreement we have made with Canada is the best agreement the EU has ever made,” Juncker said, insisting that the Commission had come to the conclusion that CETA was not a mixed agreement, after a detailed analysis. “But if the member states decide legal opinions are not valid in politics then I am the last person that would stand in their way.”
Juncker went on saying that it was a false debate. “None of the member states have a problem with the content of this agreement,” he insisted, adding he had asked the leaders this individually while they were here in Brussels.
“I would like to see the clear legal proof that this is not an EU only competence. To say that it was my personal preference to make sure that national parliaments had no say in this is absurd,” he said, noting that every government is perfectly free to ask their national parliaments how the government should vote.
Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has said she hoped CETA is adopted before the end of October when it could be signed during a planned visit to Brussels by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Commission argues that allowing national parliaments to have a say in the agreement will slow down the process and put the bloc’s credibility at stake. Some estimate that it could take as many as four years for CETA to get through parliaments.
The process could easily be derailed as some countries have already said that they would find it difficult to ratify CETA.
Last month, Bulgaria joined Romania, who first indicated that it would veto CETA – expressing disappointment that Ottawa had not delivered on its promise to solve the visa waiver issue – in an effort to put pressure both on Ottawa and the Commission and the EU member states.
The Dutch parliament has also passed a motion rejecting provisional application of deal, while the Walloon parliament pushed through a resolution requesting the regional government not to grant full powers to the Belgian federal executive to sign CETA.
(EurActiv Germany contributed to this article)
The opposition in Germany also took a dim view of the Commission's plan. "Juncker has not heard the shot fired by the UK," said Klaus Ernst (Die Linke), in reference to the UK's referendum on Thursday (23 June). "It is exactly this lust for power and arrogance in Brussels that is putting the EU in jeopardy." Ernst announced that his party would submit an application to the Bundestag directly after the summer break, for the German government to be involved.
The Greens' chairman Simone Peter warned that Juncker's proposal would only fuel. "Euroscepticism and political disenchantment". "Anyone that doesn't hear the warning bells of Brexit risks the disintegration of Europe," he added.
Negotiations toward a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) were completed in 2014. In February 2016, Canada and the European Commission announced that the legal review of the agreement had been completed, and a new approach to investment protection and dispute resolution inserted into the text.