CETA: What lessons can we learn from Wallonia?

The difficulties in agreeing CETA highlight the need for an overhaul of EU trade policy, writes Maria Arena.

Maria Arena | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Maria Arena

Maria Arena (BE, S&D) is Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights

23 Nov 2016

A lot has been said in recent weeks about the Walloon government's decision to set certain conditions before approving CETA. Despite certain EU leaders making questionable comments in an attempt to turn the debate into a bad caricature of European democracy, the questions posed by Wallonia are fundamental.

Following this 'crisis', the time has come for more in depth reflection on EU trade policy. Beyond interpretative declarations and instruments, in many regards Wallonia has set a before and after CETA.

The first lesson to be learnt concerns our democracy. Nowadays, the issues relating to modern trade agreements go way beyond simply trade; they also touch upon social, environmental and health issues. The traditional secrecy that surrounds trade talks is incompatible with this new reality. Parliamentary scrutiny, input from civil society and transparency are essential conditions to future trade policy.


In addition, given that CETA will serve as boilerplate for future trade deals, the concerns raised by Wallonia - widely shared by others - will need to be taken into account before launching any trade talks and integrated into ongoing negotiations, such as TTIP and TiSA. 

Walloons were not able to change the agreement, but they did remove some of its most toxic elements, notably asking the European Court of Justice to examine the legality of the investment court system. 

They have laid out the future foundation for such debates as rejecting special investor courts, the necessity to safeguard social and environmental rights, the protection of public services and general interest, parliamentary participation in policymaking and the possibility of ending an agreement that has strayed too far from these principles.

The third lesson to be learnt is that 'business as usual' is not an option. We are at a turning point in history, where citizens' mistrust of the EU's institutions and policies, especially in terms of trade, is at an all-time high. Europe needs strong leadership that listens to its citizens' rightful concerns, isn't afraid of questioning itself, and turns words into action.

We are focusing on the wrong debate. Trade is important, but staking everything on hypothetical growth, achieved through free trade agreements and unbridled globalisation, whose only aim is to deepen liberalisation - which is already widespread - and cause more and more inequality, would be a fatal error. 

We need a new trade model, where trade serves sustainable development and the UN's 2030 Agenda. This means introducing binding environmental and social chapters in agreements, along with sanctions in case of non-compliance. 

This must include the priorities laid out in the Paris agreement and ILO norms, dropping 'liberalisation by default', protecting public services, making sure the general interest prevails over economic interests and promoting local agriculture. 


Read the most recent articles written by Maria Arena - Making the European Green Deal the Real Deal

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