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10/12/2016

France makes another U-turn on EU trade policy

Trade & Society

France makes another U-turn on EU trade policy

Matthias Fekl

[EU2016 SK/Flickr]

After going to extraordinary lengths to block an anti-CETA resolution in the French parliament, Matthias Fekl has called for more democracy in Europe’s trade negotiations. EurActiv France reports.

After weeks of castigation by anti-CETA campaigners and accusations that he turned a blind eye to the destruction of social and environmental standards to protect the economic interests of multinationals, France’s Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Matthias Fekl on Tuesday (8 November) presented new proposals for reforming the EU’s trade policy. Rather ironically, his watchword is democracy.

Less than a month ago, Fekl played a central role in the move to block an anti-CETA resolution by switching out potential troublemakers from the National Assembly’s European affairs committee at the last minute.

'Strange' manoeuvering over CETA exposes democratic deficit

French lawmakers are continuing their battle against the EU’s free trade deal with Canada (CETA). The arrest of Green MEP José Bové by the Canadian authorities yesterday (12 October) has only deepened concerns over the deal. EurActiv France reports.

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Four “unreliable” Socialist MPs were forcibly resigned from the committee for 24 hours, before being reinstated after the vote. While legal, this manoeuvre was hardly democratic.

“The EU as it currently stands has stopped working, and trade policy should go through a more democratic process,” the secretary of state said. Fekl believes the EU should take more time for deliberation and discussion between the parties to its deals.

He used the example of Wallonia, whose opposition to CETA began just weeks before the deal was concluded and continued right up until its signature. “It is not good that Wallonia was only involved right at the end of the process. Anyone with something to say should be involved from start to finish.”

But the absence of any real democratic debate on CETA was down to the agreement’s change of status in July: in an attempt to pacify his critics, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker changed the deal from a simple to a mixed agreement. So after four years of negotiations, the EU’s national and regional parliaments suddenly found they had a say.

“This was a big mistake. Trade was an exclusive competence the EU had held for 50 years. Neither the European Parliament nor the Commission should have agreed to make this a mixed competence,” one right wing Europhile MEP said.

Belgian region of Wallonia blocks EU-Canada trade deal

Lawmakers in the small Belgian region of Wallonia today (14 October) voted to block an EU-Canada trade deal in a move set to have serious implications for future trade talks with the US and a non-EU UK.

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Parliamentary ratification

Fekl stressed that France and Germany had pushed for a mixed agreement, whereby the free trade deal would only enter into force after ratification by national parliaments. “I do not want to question the intentions of Jean-Claude Juncker, but he thinks the only way to prevent the explosion of the EU is to stop making a fuss about all these ratifications, though he said it more politely. But I happen to think the opposite: national parliaments should take ownership of the negotiations from start to finish. Europe has no future if our democracy is not extremely strong,” he said.

EU leaders face ‘credibility’ test with CETA

Belgium’s Wallonia region will be at the centre of attention when EU heads of states and government meet tomorrow and Friday (20-21 October), as the French-speaking region’s opposition to a proposed EU-Canada free trade agreement is expected to dominate summit talks.

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Asked how so many politicians from so many different countries and political parties could possibly sit round the same negotiating table, Fekl said that individual parliaments should designate their own representatives. “We should look at what they do in America, where the powers and the role of the parliament are incontestable.”

Following this U-turn, the secretary of state has begun pushing for the use of open data in trade policy. “Nothing could be more transparent,” as all data relating to trade policy would be available online. One of the commonest criticisms of the CETA and TTIP negotiations was that they took place behind closed doors.

These new proposals, which Fekl will announce at a meeting of EU trade ministers on Friday (11 November), could hardly come at a less opportune moment. CETA has been and gone, and TTIP is all but dead in the water.