CETA: A way out of European self-dwarfism

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What happens if the EU buries its common trade policy? [Stop TTIP/Flickr]

Anti-CETA campaigns and mass protests have put the EU-Canada deal under constant pressure. Daniel Caspary MEP asks: What are we going to do if the European Union buries its common trade policy?

Daniel Caspary is a German MEP and is the EPP group’s coordinator on the Committee on International Trade (INTA) in the European Parliament and Parliamentary Secretary (Chief-Whip) of the German CDU/CSU Delegation.

It has only been a number of days since the timetable for the signature and ratification of the envisioned trade agreement between the EU and Canada was agreed upon − and parts of it are already outdated.

Instead of vocal support for CETA, the agreement is in high danger of failure and might as well end with a blank piece of paper. The fact that a failure of CETA would also imply a deadly blow to the common trade policy of the EU is ignored. What is the way out of this self-imposed existential crisis?

What does it mean for Europe’s representative democracy if the wave of public outrage breaks over CETA?

The legal basis is unambiguous. The member states have transferred exclusive competence over trade negotiations and trade agreements to the European Union. In response to public pressure, the European Commission decided to involve national parliaments in the decision-making process.

In consequence, CETA can enter into force only upon ratification by the 28 member states according to their respective national ratification procedures. Prior to that, the competent European Institutions, first and foremost the European Parliament as well as the Council, must cast a positive ballot.

However, the agreement fails if CETA is rejected in one single member state. The misinterpreted concession of the Commission yields EU members veto powers, which present us with a dilemma: member states have no authority to negotiate trade agreements and block the efforts of the EU to do it on their behalf.

Two conclusions, short and long-term, could be drawn: First, CETA − the most advanced trade agreement ever negotiated by two parties − would fail. Second, we would give up on shaping globalisation. Other trade powers would set the standards for the future of international trade.

CETA-critics forget all too often that trade has played a vital role in building Europe’s prosperity. The advantages of the common market are universally accepted and appreciated. The common trade policy of the European Union has contributed significantly to this wealth. Europe is the largest trade power in the world.

Regarding CETA, Europe could be in a position of strength. Instead, we have to ask ourselves: With whom will Europe be able to enter into agreements if the EU is not capable of negotiating an agreement with close partners, such as Canada? Who will ever want to conduct negotiations with us at all?

If the ongoing debate around CETA ends with the principal inability of the EU to conclude trade agreements, future trade negotiations will have to be conducted separately. One strand of talks for those policy areas falling under the exclusive competence of the EU and a second set of negotiations for all those policy areas falling under national competence of the member states.

Both strands of talks would lead to separate trade agreements. Thereby, the danger of a blockade, such as with CETA, would be averted since ratification by member states would not constitute a requirement for EU trade agreements to enter into force. The agreements could fail individually without holding the entirety of trade policy hostage. Trade partners would have to be aware that the agreements would not come as package deals, but would mutually reinforce one another in case both were adopted.

This scenario is a second-best solution only when it is measured against a genuine common trade policy. The alleged “democratisation” of trade policy by otiose involvement of national parliaments would have buried the still-existing common trade policy.

However, the proposal to conduct trade negotiations separately offers a way out of this self-imposed existential crisis. It would not repair all damage, but it constitutes a pragmatic approach in line with the overall goal of trade negotiations: Enhancing and strengthening economic exchange and trade to secure Europe’s prosperity.