Melanie S. M. Lyn
On October 30, Donald Tusk (President of EU Council), Jean-Claude Juncker (President of the EU Commission) and Justin Trudeau (Canadian Prime-Minister) met in Brussels and signed CETA, the free trade deal between Canada and the EU.
But CETA is not a done deal. This was simply the first step ushering in the CETA ratification process.
CETA ratification steps
1. EU Commission presents result of negotiation with Canadian government
2. EU Council (governments) approve, EU and Canada sign
3. European Parliament vote
– Trade Committee (INTA) vote
– Other parliamentary committees give their opinion
– European Parliament holds final „plenary“ vote
4. National (and regional) parliaments vote
Back in July 2016, the Commission announced that CETA would be concluded as a mixed agreement. This means that CETA will require approval of both the European Parliament (EP) and each of the 28 Member States. In some members states this includes approval by regional parliaments (e.g. Belgium) or second chambers of national Parliaments representing regions (e.g. Germany).
We are currently in the European Parliament ratification process. Normally, the procedure is relatively straight-forward: during a period of at least six months, the Parliament as a whole reviews an agreement before it goes to plenary vote. Such reviews include hearings, debates, and written statements. This role is taken on primarily by the parliamentary committees, which each focus on specific areas of EU competence and are comprised of MEPs of all political affiliations and member states. These procedures are in place to distribute power across EU institutions, so that for example proposals from the EU Commission receive proper parliamentary scrutiny.
In the case of CETA, however, things are not business as usual. While technically abiding by EU standard procedure, in practice, it will be almost impossible for the EP to fulfill its commitment to transparency and democracy.
After the Council, Commission, and Canada approved and signed CETA, there was a lot of uncertainty about when the European Parliament would vote. The initial proposed date of mid-February was fast-tracked to December, and then changed once again to the current scheduled date: 1st or 2nd of February. Regardless, even mid-February would have been problematic, as that would have left MEPs very little time to work through the 1600-page document before making their final decision.
Another contentious issue: The requests of parliamentary committees to be consulted ahead of voting, as envisaged by normal procedure, were initially rejected. It was only recently, in the face of pressure from citizen groups and critical MEPs, that three committees (environment, transport, and employment) were allowed to prepare a written opinion after all. This shows that citizen power does have an effect on EU internal politics! Nevertheless, the short deadline could negatively impact this process and undermines the necessary checks and balances put into place to ensure debate and democracy within the European Parliament.
The next step in the ratification process is going to be the vote in the European Parliament‘s international trade committee (INTA), which played a major role in the CETA negotiations. INTA members which are MEPs, are scheduled to vote in late January on whether to approve or reject CETA. Their decision will be presented as a recommendation in the final plenary debate before the European Parliament vote.
What about Wallonia?
Following a meeting of the EU Council, CETA hit a road block when Belgium was unable to sign the agreement due to resistance the region of Wallonia. Under Belgian law, all regional parliaments have to give the federal government permission before signing an agreement like CETA. For a short time the Wallonian Prime-Minister Paul Magnette blocked Belgium’s signature, stating that CETA was a threat to public services and to the region’s farmers. After intense negotiations with the EU, Magnette allowed CETA to be signed by Belgium, but under some new guidelines (including a review of the investor protection provisions by the European Court of Justice). He also stated that if Wallonia’s guidelines are not followed, he would block CETA once it reaches the Walloon parliament for ratification. Following this turn of events, CETA was signed by Donald Tusk (President of EU Council), Jean-Claude Juncker (President of the EU Commission) and Justin Trudeau (Canadian Prime-Minister) on October 30, 2016.
For now, it looks as though the plenary vote In the European Parliament will happen in early February. To reject CETA roughly 372 out of the 571 MEPs need to vote with a ‘no.’ Alternatively if a large enough number of MEPs abstain and the ‘no’-vote is stronger than the ‘yes’-vote then CETA would also get rejected.
In the event that MEPs endorse the CETA agreement in the European parliament, then CETA is sent to each national parliament of the EU’s 28 member states for a parliamentary vote. If one national parliament rejects CETA, then the free-trade agreement falls through as a whole.