December 12, 2016 - by Dr. Valerie D’Erman, Postdoctoral fellow, Department of Political Science, University of Victoria
The signing of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU at the end of October does not mean that the ongoing full approval of the trade agreement is without more obstacles. CETA now has to be ratified through plenary votes in both the European Parliament (EP) and national parliaments across the EU. The initial rejection of CETA by Wallonia, a region in Belgium, in October 2016 illustrated both the strong anti-free-trade sentiments present in some parts of the EU, and the multitude of political roadblocks that CETA still has to pass through before reaching the possibility of full ratification and implementation.
Following the decision made by the European Commission in July 2016 that CETA would be approved as a “mixed” agreement – meaning that CETA would require approval from both national and supranational levels, despite trade being a supranational competence of EU governance – there have been several sources of CETA opposition across different parts of the EU. Most analysts and commentators agreed that the requiring national approval for CETA held the potential for challenges and protests from national and regional levels. Wallonia served to emphatically prove this assumption, before its 11th hour turn-around.
The most recent source of challenge to CETA, however, comes instead from the European Parliament rather than at the national level. Several EP committees – including the committees on employment and the environment, respectively – have already given their non-binding opinions on the need to reject CETA. These committees and others are able to give their opinions to the leading International Trade committee in the EP, who will then have to hold their own vote for 24 January 2017, before the full EP plenary vote scheduled for 2 February 2017.
The significance of anti-CETA votes within the EP, even if non-binding, lie in the EP’s position as being the only EU-level institution with direct democracy, in the form of MEP elections held every five years. The ratification of CETA in the EP was always a necessary step for CETA’s full approval, even before the decision to approve CETA as a “mixed” agreement. The future of CETA now lies precariously in the inherent tension of the EP’s role within the EU: the very existence of the EP speaks to the success and legitimacy of EU governance as a whole, at the same time that the function of the EP demands responsiveness to the people and partisan issues which is represents. In the case of CETA, this tension could become the agreement’s undoing.