Giegold MEP: Constitutional court CETA decision ‘balanced’ but concerns remain

Germany’s ruling parties champion the cause of proper subsidiarity when it suits them, but conveniently forget it when it comes to free trade, said Sven Giegold MEP, in an interview with EURACTIV Germany about CETA.

Sven Giegold is an MEP with the Greens/EFA group, representing Bündnis 90/Die Grünen at a national level. He is a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and a substitute on its Committee on Constitutional Affairs.

He spoke to’s Nicole Sagener.

The Constitutional Court ruled that labour protection should be included in the provisional application of CETA. Is this a partial success for CETA critics?

I think that the court’s decision is mostly balanced, because it sets high standards for the EU when it comes to the matter of national competences. On the other hand, it protects European democracy from unacceptable interference at a national level.

When it’s a matter of European competence, the Council and the Parliament must obviously decide and the European Court of Justice is the right avenue for this. But when it’s a national competence, Europe must not meddle. That’s the essence of the subsidiarity principle.

Nevertheless, some CETA critics overshoot the level of criticism that is acceptable. Namely, when they say that the national parliaments are needed, because the European institutions do not have enough democratic legitimacy to make such far-reaching decisions. The Karlsruhe-based court realised this perfectly and took the right course of action.

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The judges also require a mechanism that will strengthen the influence of Germany on the European Council’s Joint Committee…

The constitutional court has not decided on the rights of the European Parliament, that’s not what it’s for. For us in the Parliament, it is obviously important that the decision of the CETA committee is tied to democracy and that the Parliament is involved. The ideal solution would be for the Council and the Parliament to be able to raise objections to such decisions.

The court also ruled that the German government must ensure it retains the right to withdraw from the agreement. What consequences can you foresee?

Well they are complicated, so the lawyers are going to have to wrangle with it for a while. In particular, a unilateral termination of the provisional agreement has not, in my opinion, been fully assessed.

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A national court has had a lot of involvement with a European issue: a fact that has been critically viewed in Brussels, correct?

A part of the pro-European community is so pro-European that they sometimes forget that Europe is a legal community, which cannot easily appropriate national competences. If Europe comes up with a deal that interferes with the power of the member states, then they must obviously have the right to make their own decisions. So national constitutions must be respected. On the other hand, some criticism starts to sound a bit like blatant nationalism.

Do you think that the inner-party conflict within the SPD has calmed now?

The court’s decision will give Sigmar Gabriel some breathing space. But he was only able to convince the SPD party conference by making far-reaching promises on protocol clarification. But, the concerns of the SPD and trade unions are not addressed, as there is no clarification on the problematic issue of arbitration, intervention in municipal services, the precautionary principle, etc. Many delegates feel like they have been led up the garden path.

Gabriel and the SPD promised a comprehensive assessment through the European Parliament, but that was rejected yesterday (13 October) by CDU and SPD representatives of the Trade Committee. That committee has responsibility for taking this decision and all other committees cannot make comment on it. So, in my view, the Economic and Monetary Committee does not have the chance to influence the plenary. Instead, everything is settled by summary proceeding. There is obviously the will to bring CETA before the plenary by January at the latest. Adequate parliamentary discussion of such a complex agreement is a different kettle of fish entirely.

Gabriel said in a subsequent press conference that CETA is protection against a bad free trade agreement with the US. What do you think of that?

In a way, I think Gabriel is right. CETA is a benchmark that is going to make it even harder for the US to reach an agreement on TTIP. Nevertheless, CETA includes a large number of highly dubious provisions that interfere excessively with European and Canadian democracy. Additionally, American companies could exploit CETA through their Canadian subsidiaries, while European companies cannot get the same penetration in the US in the same way. This creates an imbalance.

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It also escapes me why the purposeful points of CETA, like the elimination of tariffs and technical barriers cannot be achieved without interfering in social standards and the general public interest. Every law made in Brussels needs a subsidiarity check. But the 2,200 pages of CETA don’t require such an assessment. I think it’s double standards that the CDU/CSU, which are otherwise the champions of subsidiarity, suddenly do not think the democratic right of self-determination is important when it comes to free trade.

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