Calling your Members of the European Parliament (MEP) by phone and discussing CETA, the EU-Canada free trade deal, is probably the most effective way of convincing them to vote against this dangerous agreement in February 2017. However, if you have not done this before, you might be concerned about talking to a professional politician on such a complicated issue.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to be an expert. It is your right as citizen to know how your elected representative intends to vote. This guide is meant to give you a few tips on how to have a meaningful conversation with your European representative.
Which MEP should I call?
In principle, all 751 Members of the European Parliament are meant to represent all citizens of the EU. And all of them have a say in the final vote on CETA. Of course, they are more likely to listen to you if they think that your vote will matter to them or their party in upcoming elections. So if you live in the UK or France, you should probably pick one elected in the region where you vote. In other countries, you might want to talk to those who have their constituency offices near you.
By entering your postal code in the CETA CHECK tool, you can see which MEPs in your area have not yet pledged to vote against CETA. Clicking on the “info” icon next to their names will give you their phone numbers: one in Brussels, and (if it exists) one in their constituency office.
If you want to recall the most important arguments against CETA before calling, there is great material around:
- If you don’t have much time, look at the short collection at the end of this guide.
- If you want to read a bit more in depth about the most common myths spread by proponents of CETA (those are the ones you will most likely hear on the phone, too), we recommend the excellent publication of Corporate Europe Observatory, “The great CETA swindle” (available in English, German, French and Bulgarian).
- If you want to become an expert on CETA, read the expert analysis published by a coalition of independent civil society organisations “Making sense of CETA” (in English or German).
Stay polite and be yourself. Whatever happens, don’t forget the basic rules of courtesy and common sense. Whether you agree or disagree with the individual answering to you, and whatever the views of other members of her/his political group, don’t give a negative image of people who are advocating with the same purpose as you.
Most of the time, you will exchange with a parliamentary assistant, and not directly with a MEP. It’s not a problem: engage the conversation. Assistants play an important role in the development of the MEPs’ positions.
If a question to which you don’t have the answer comes up, don’t panic. You are not expected to be an expert, only a concerned citizen. Tell the MEP you will research the answer and contact him/her back with more information, and come and ask us.
Don’t let abbreviations and concepts from the Brussels jargon discourage you. If you do not understand a term or you are not familiar with procedures they refer to, ask them to explain it.
If you’re still not satisfied with the arguments, don’t give up. Ask what is the MEP’s position on the subject and why.
During a phone call, don’t hesitate to offer to call back with more information, to meet the MEP, to send documents, references, etc. Sometimes, Parliamentary assistants will ask you to send an e-mail.
Don’t hesitate to call back later to check if they’ve read it and what they thought of it.
The best way to carry your message to a MEP is to develop your argument verbally. In this way, you can adapt your speech to her/his answers, and express your great concern about the subject on which you are calling. MEPs do not receive many calls from citizens, so they are particularly sensitive to it.
This is how a typical conversation might look :
- YOU: Hello, I’m [Your Name], I’m a European citizen calling from [Your Country], and I would like to talk to Ms/Mr MEP, please.
- ASSISTANT: Ms/Mr MEP is not available, I am her/his assistant. Can I help you?
- YOU: I have heard that the European Parliament will vote on the EU-Canada trade agreement CETA in the beginning of February and I want to know how Ms/Mr MEP is going to vote.
- ASSISTANT: I see. We had calls like this before. I have no time. Can you please send us an email?
- YOU: Sorry, but is Ms/Mr MEP the elected representative of citizens like me or do you only have time for business lobbyists? I tried sending mails to MEPs on this before, but all I got back where automatic answers. Look, this is serious: CETA threatens rights of citizens, environmental standards, consumer protection and puts the interest of large corporations over those of small, local businesses.
- ASSISTANT: We know that enemies of free trade have been busy spreading such general accusations, but they are based on general opposition to globalisation and emotional fears, not on the actual text. Isolationism is not a way forward, we need to give rules to globalisation instead. CETA is the best trade agreement the EU ever negotiated.
- YOU: CETA is a long list of what governments and parliaments are no longer allowed to do. For example, if they want to fight climate change. Or social inequality. Or regulate banks. Or reverse failed privatisations. Or tackle any other of the pressing problems of our times. And CETA can force governments to pay when they choose to press ahead with policies for which they have been elected by their citizens. Is this really the very best Ms/Mr MEP and the EU are able to achieve for us citizens?
- ASSISTANT: This is not true. CETA is a progressive trade agreement. It has stuff about workers’ rights and the environment in it.
- YOU: It contains some nice words on these, yes. But there are no sanctions if those principles are violated. European and Canadian trade unions have proposed a protocol to make labour rules of CETA enforceable, but this has not been taken aboard. Why do almost all trade unions like the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and environmental organisations call on you to vote against CETA if it is so great as you say? How can we implement the Paris Climate Agreement if polluters can sue states for passing laws to phase out dirty and hazardous fuels like coal and nuclear?
- ASSISTANT: Don’t worry. We noted those concerns and our MEPs forced the Commission to add additional declarations to CETA that will ensure that important European achievements like the precautionary principle and the right to regulate remain untouched.
- YOU: Are you aware that none of those declarations will prevent Canadian investors to sue European legislators? In theory, our Parliaments can still regulate, but the high price tag on laws protecting us citizens will be so high that they will not even dare to try. Which municipality will take back privatised services in water, education, health or social welfare into public hand if the risk is being sued by investors for expropriation? This is how investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms are being used around the world and the investor court system (ICS) in CETA will create exactly the same possibility.
- ASSISTANT: Oh no, CETA has a completely new dispute settlement system, with an independent court. Do you want to keep the old ISDS systems from hundreds of bilateral trade agreements instead?
- YOU: As a citizen, I have no special court where I could sue foreign investors when they sell me dangerous products or services. Neither can domestic businesses do so, nor my government. Why do we need to give such privileges to investors at all? Both the EU and Canada have working legal systems. Can you name a single case when a Canadian investor was treated unfairly by a European court?
- ASSISTANT: Well, you know there are very different opinions on this. This agreement is the result of 6 years of negotiations, we do have to accept compromises on certain points. We are discussing this very intensively in our group, we had lots of hearings and debates in the European Parliament.
- YOU: The final text of CETA has been available since last March and the problematic points have been voiced by independent experts all the time since. The additional declarations have been published end of October, so surely Ms/Mr MEP had time to make up her/his mind. Could you please discuss the critical issues I just mentioned with her/him and let me know what she/he thinks? I can send you further reference material where these are explained more in detail.
- ASSISTANT: OK, I will report to Ms/Mr MEP and see what she/he thinks.
- YOU: Thank you very much for listening to me. I am looking forward to hear back from you. My phone number is [Your Phone Nr] and my email address is [Your Email]. Have a good day.
How did your call go? Did you enjoy it? Tell us about your experience: firstname.lastname@example.org
Did you feel you were able to make a difference? Do you think you can still improve? Time to call the next MEP, then!
We have collected a sample of the most problematic issues in CETA. You don’t have to use all of them in a phone call, just pick a few that you are concerned about most.
CETA is a post-democratic agreement. It reinforces the particular interests of big industry and weakens democracy. Thus it will further alienate the EU from its citizens.
- The CETA agreement was negotiated in secret. The negotiation objectives of the EU Commission were decided in 2008 by the governments of the EU member states. Even this document was secret, until it was leaked by civil society in 2015.
- Parliaments are permitted only to say Yes or No to CETA. However, they thereby undertake to fully implement the 2270 page agreement document into governing law. The vote on CETA is therefore simultaneously a decision on data protection, pharmaceutical patents, customs duties, the enforcement of seed licenses, and much more. Never before has the European Parliament waved through far-reaching provisions of this type after such a brief and superficial parliamentary process.
- CETA provides special rights to global corporations. Section 8 allows investors from Canada to sue the EU and its member states for damages, and vice-versa, if new regulations reduce their profits and thereby the value of their investments. No domestic business can avail of this. The protection against “indirect expropriation” goes significantly beyond the protection against expropriation under national law. The “right to regulate” specified in section 8 and in the accompanying explanations changes nothing in this respect – claims for compensation will follow nevertheless. 42,000 US companies could also sue via subsidiaries in Canada.
- CETA gives lobbyists precedence over Members of the European Parliament. The rules on regulatory cooperation (sections 25 to 27) are the perfect environment for lobbyists to be able to influence the text of draft EU laws, even before these reach the European Parliament. Participation of the European Parliament, the elected representative body of citizens, is not provided for.
- CETA restricts legislators. In many places, CETA makes very definite provisions which go well beyond classical trade policy. If in future the EU, the member states, or local authorities wish to modify regulations which are defined in CETA, then the federal Government of Canada must agree. In this way, parliaments lose room for maneuver, and citizens lose their ability to change politics through the ballot box.
Food and Farming
Throughout Europe there is great pressure on farms, especially those which operate sustainable agriculture. Increasing numbers are giving up and industry is increasingly devouring agriculture. CETA will destroy small farming and accelerate the industrialisation of agriculture.
- CETA opens the market to cheap meat. CETA increases the duty-free import quotas for pork into the EU by a factor of 11, and for beef by a factor of 15. On average, between 2005 and 2015, the payout price for pork in Canada was 28.4% below that in the EU, and for beef it was 16.2% less. European companies therefore have no chance. In addition, the agreement contains no binding regulations on animal protection. Although everyone in the EU must comply with the same regulations, CETA threatens competition with the application of different standards.
- CETA strengthens the seed industry against the farmers. Many agricultural operations in Europe use their own seed for cereal cultivation. This is a thorn in the side to corporate groups like Monsanto – their aim is to take in license fees every year, but for this they must prove to the farmers that they are providing licensed seeds. Article 20.36 of CETA gives them what the European Court of Law has refused for decades: A reversal of the burden of proof. In future, farmers must prove that their seeds are not licensed – or else they must pay.
- CETA brings more genetic engineering to Europe. Canada is amongst the major champions of GMOs worldwide. Article 25.2, paragraph 2 of CETA explicitly names the “reduction of disadvantageous commercial impacts from regulatory practices in the area of biologically engineered products” as an aim of the agreement. This can mean only that the EU will eventually have to open its market for genetically modified products.
The European form of the social state owes its success to the rights of co-determination which it guarantees to workers. With CETA, their interests are thrown under the bus.
- Increased competition without common regulations. Worldwide, free trade often results in a competition to impose low salaries, long working hours, and low social contributions by employers. In order to avoid this, clear regulations are required against salary, social contribution, and tax dumping. CETA does not contain these regulations. It is true that there is a section about trade and work (section 23), which contains many fine words, but in the event of infringements, only consultations are foreseen, not sanctions.
- Companies use arbitration tribunals in order to proceed against social rights. Special rights for investors, such as the ICS in CETA, strengthen the abilities of large companies to force through their interests. For example, the French company Veolia is currently suing the Egyptian state for compensation for the introduction of a minimum wage. Winning better regulations for employees therefore becomes ever more difficult.
- CETA is destroying jobs. Economic predictions assume a slight growth of employment, less than 0.02% at best, over the course of 10 years. Less positive studies talk of a loss of more than 200,000 jobs in the EU. It will not be possible for someone who makes sausages today just to swap over to the export of building services tomorrow. Predictions therefore foresee an increase in long term unemployment.
- Redistribution from bottom to top. CETA makes it easy to change the functional distribution of income in the EU. Economic predictions forecast that the relative share of the equity owners increases by 0.66%. The working population’s share in the wealth which is produced decreases correspondingly.
Environmental and Consumer Protection
As consumers, we want to be sure that products we buy are safe. We don’t want to be the guinea pigs of the industry. We also don’t want our environment to be polluted. That’s why we have the precautionary principle in Europe. However, the industry only sees this as restriction. With CETA, they started an assault on the precautionary principle and on our rights as consumers.
- CETA obstructs food labeling. Genetically engineered food must be labeled in the EU. Still we do not yet know whether meat, milk and eggs were produced with genetically modified feed. The genetic engineering industry can use investment protection to demand compensation if labeling requirements continue for certain products.
- CETA obstructs environmental protection. The Canadian industry has a great interest in extracting oil from tar sands. This is, however, the most dirty method of oil extraction and it poses a major threat to the climate. During the negotiations on CETA, the EU Commission weakened the Fuel Quality Directive (originally designed to protect the climate) in order to meet the Canadian tar sands industry.
- CETA obstructs consumer protection. For years, the EU has been discussing the precautionary principle, a restriction on chemicals that act as hormones in the human body. In order to proceed with these free trade agreements, the EU Commission offered to ignore the precautionary principle when doing business with Canada and the US.
- CETA guarantees Canadian mining companies their dirty business. Half of all mining companies in the world come from Canada. They are among the major beneficiaries of investment protection agreements. For example, the Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources is currently suing Romania for not granting permission to mine gold in Rosia Montana. The company would have stored highly toxic cyanide behind a dam, risking the entire lower Danube region, just as we witnessed in the notorious environmental disaster of Baia Mare in 2000. With CETA, companies like Gabriel Resources receive special rights at the expense of people and the environment in all EU countries.
European local authorities which have privatised parts of their public services in the last three decades have mainly had bad experiences. Increasingly they are reversing this step, where possible. However most European governments, as well as the EU Commission, remain true to the dogma that private, profit-oriented companies are basically better. CETA restricts the room for manoeuvre of local authorities, and supports the privatisation of public services.
- The investment protection chapter also applies to local authorities. When asked by the European Parliament, the EU Commission itself had to admit that there can be cases in which local authorities are brought before investment arbitration tribunals. There are shocking examples of this from the North American Free Trade Zone, NAFTA. For example, the Mexican local authority of Guadalcázar was ordered to pay 16.7 million dollars compensation because, in order to protect groundwater, it did not approve a hazardous waste landfill site.
- CETA extends and reinforces competitive tendering obligations. For public tenders, CETA opens the market to Canadian companies. Through specifying the thresholds for international tenders in the attachments to section 19, it becomes more difficult to lower them again, because compensation would have to be paid to Canada for this. For public tenders, CETA obliges local authorities to always select the cheapest offer, and forbids quality requirements and conditions which favour local developments.
- CETA liberalises all services not excluded explicitely. While other trade agreements include only specifically named economic sectors (“positive list”), CETA subjects everything to its regulations which is not specifically excluded (“negative list”). In addition, services which do not yet exist are automatically included in the agreement, and these must not be provided by public authorities.
- CETA prevents the reversal of privatisations. Article 8.4 (1) explicitly prohibits the local level from restricting the number of companies which exercise an economic activity with “monopolies, with suppliers having exclusive rights, or the requirement for an economic needs test”. This means that privatisation, e.g. by previous governments, can no longer be reversed, even if this is the wish of the affected citizens.