EXCLUSIVE / After the near-death experience of CETA, the controversial EU-Canada trade deal that was almost toppled by a regional government in Belgium, a group of academics has come out to defend the European decision-making process in trade policy.
“The other side of the academic argument needed to be made.” That’s how Marco Bronckers, a Dutch lawyer and professor at Leiden University, explained why he and a few colleagues launched Trading Together, a declaration on European trade policy.
The initiative is a response to the Namur Declaration by Wallonia’s leader, Paul Magnette. In November 2016, the leader of the small Belgian region almost succeeded in blocking the signature of CETA.
In early December, Magnette, who is also an academic, released the declaration bearing the name of the capital of Wallonia, and got it signed by close to forty other colleagues from across the Western world. It calls for a rethink of the way the EU does trade policy to make it more responsive to citizens’ concerns.
Bronckers and his friends mobilised 60 academics from fifteen European countries. “The complications surrounding the signing of the EU’s comprehensive economic and trade agreement with Canada (CETA) have imperilled the ability of the EU to engage effectively in international trade negotiations”, the scholars warn. Moves like the Namur Declaration “would further weaken the EU’s international standing,” the scholars believe. “We need the EU to be strong,” said Marco Bronckers.
Crucial role of the European Parliament
The Magnette text calls for greater scrutiny of trade agreements by national and regional parliaments in the EU. Trading Together for its part argues that the Namur declaration disregards the already democratic nature of decision-making in the EU. It calls on national governments to scrutinise more closely than they do now the actions of their governments in the Council in Brussels.
Trading Together stresses, in particular, the role of the European Parliament. The Lisbon Treaty has empowered the legislative body in international trade. “The European Parliament has made meaningful contributions in this field. It has shown that, if necessary, it will not hesitate to reject the ratification of international agreements, in particular when fundamental rights are at issue,” the scholars argue, citing notably the rejection of the 2012 ACTA – the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
Trading Together does not generally delve into what EU trade agreements should look like. “The points we make should be agreed by many people, even if we do not agree on the substance,” Bronckers explained to Borderlex.
The Namur Declaration, for example, calls on the EU to make labour and environment provisions in free trade agreements subject to commercial sanctions, contrary to what is the case today. It also calls for the protection of public services, and for limiting the extent of services trade liberalisation.
Equal access to justice for all
On the controversial investor-state dispute settlement system adopted in CETA – the ‘Investment Court System’ – Magnette’s declaration said that “the recourse to national and European competent courts should be favoured”.
Bronckers says that this argument must be thought through a bit better. CETA’s text, like that of many international agreements, stipulates that its provisions do not apply directly in national law, and simply cannot be invoked in national courts.
“What we care about is equal access to justice”, Prof Bronckers said. ICS critics rightly question why investors should be given special rights, Bronckers and his like-minded colleagues think. A way out would be to give other stakeholders access to international judicial mecanisms.
“All private stakeholders (not just foreign investors) should have access to effective surveillance mechanisms regarding the compliance of the signatories with their obligations under these international trade agreements,” Trading Together reads. This should also apply to obligations on sustainability, environmental, social and health protection, the declaration stresses.
Co-signatories of Trading Together include Alberto Alemanno from HEC Paris, Paz Andrés Sáenz de Santa María from University of Oviedo, Pierre d’Argent, Catholic University of Louvain, Lorand Bartels from Cambridge University, Peter van Elsuwege from University of Ghent, Steffen Hindelang, Freie Universität Berlin, and Reinhard Quick, Universität des Saarlands, among others.
The website of the Trading Together declaration can be viewed here.