In a last-minute bid to block the EU-Canada trade agreement ahead of a crucial vote in the European Parliament on Wednesday (15 February), civil society organisations have campaigned to derail the fragile balance of support among MEPs. EURACTIV’s media partner Borderlex reports.
Most observers expect the European Parliament to give a thumbs up to the deal. But an increasing number of MEPs signalled their intention to abstain from the vote in recent days, potentially putting an approving majority in jeopardy.
The pact has been backed by three out of four Parliament committees that issued an opinion on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada, also known as CETA.
But mounting pressure from civil society combined with approaching elections in heavyweight member states – Germany, France and the Netherlands – might muddle the picture.
National preferences could supersede the political groups’ voting instructions among liberal ALDE and centre-right EPP MEPs.
The S&D group’s vote will be pivotal. The Social Democrats have admitted that they were deeply split. Romanian MEP Sorin Moisa (S&D) said that “the debate on CETA in our group has been very intense and marked by a strong pluralism of ideas”.
But “whether we see more the full or the empty half of the glass, the process of shaping CETA has definitely brought us, as a Group, in a position to indicate the direction of progressive trade policy in Europe”, Moisa concluded.
Should MEPs endorse the trade pact, the bulk of it will come into force provisionally in spring 2017.
Following a decision by the 28 member states in the EU Council, provisional application will not apply to the following areas of CETA: investment protection (including the investment court or ICS), portfolio investment and related provisions from the financial services chapter.
However, national ratification procedures can take several years. The EU-Korea FTA’s national ratification process took four-and-a-half years. The Singapore FTA has been on hold since 2014, pending an opinion of the ECJ expected in March 2017.
The Belgian government is expected to file a request for an opinion on the legality of CETA’s controversial investment court system with the European Court of Justice.
This move, which results from the compromise agreement reached by the federal authorities of Belgium with the regional government of Wallonia in November 2016, is expected to further delay when EU member states finally ratify CETA.
Meanwhile, there has been heavy campaigning for and against the agreement ahead of the vote.
Campaigning against CETA
The Berlin-based Stop TTIP campaign group has also been orchestrating a telephone or direct call campaign against the deal targeting individual MEPs. The campaign group was also behind a petition signed by 3.5 million people that was submitted to the European Parliament on Monday (13 February).
The protest group has aimed to make MEPs commit to not voting in favour of CETA in a campaign called Do The CETA Check. Its website tracks which MEPs have not made a commitment to reject the agreement. At the time this article was published, the website recorded 155 pledges by individual MEPs to vote against the deal.
Business groups for their part have called for CETA to be ratified. The list is long: Eurochambers, Business Europe, Belgian Chambers, AmCham EU, among many others have called on MEPs to endorse the pact. Markus Beyrer, the head of Business Europe, hailed CETA as “the best agreement the EU has ever negotiated”.
Spirits Europe, the drinks group, has actively orchestrated a campaign in favour of CETA on social media under the hashtag #CETANow.
Prime minister Justin Trudeau will fly all the way from Canada to address MEPs in Strasbourg after the vote on Thursday (16 February).
Should CETA fail, the future of the EU’s ability to strike trade agreements will be under question.