We are faced with a conundrum. Many politicians, MEPs included, have spoken and voted against the EU-US trade deal due to concerns that it threatens health, environment, public services and more.
Yet the EU-Canada trade deal, containing many of the same dangers, has not yet been met with the same widespread high-level opposition. How is it that so many of our public representatives take a principled stand against TTIP, but not against its little sister CETA?
Perhaps there was such opposition in the European Parliament to the 2015 TTIP resolution because MEPs could be sure they were backed by a groundswell of public opinion. TTIP, in as much as any trade deal can, has become a household name. CETA on the other hand is less infamous, despite covering the same issues and posing similar risks.
Unwilling to reopen the CETA text now that it has been negotiated, the European Commission and the Canadian government have put forward a joint declaration to “interpret” the agreement with more clarity.
This declaration is an attempt to paper over the many dangerous cracks that critics have found in this deal, promising that there’s nothing to be concerned about.
Although drafts of the joint declaration have been found to have no legal weight, CETA negotiators intended to pile pressure on Austria, the German SPD and Walloon government to fold ahead of this week's (18 October) foreign affairs and trade Council meeting to approve the deal.
In the case of the Walloon government this strategy has clearly failed, with the Walloon parliament voting overwhelming against CETA ratification.
The European Parliament’s role is crucial. It will be the first in a series of parliaments tasked with executing the public will. In fact, the plenary vote of the European Parliament, in December 2016 or January 2017, will be the only parliamentary vote to consider the CETA agreement in its entirety, before most of CETA’s rules will likely be applied provisionally.
Faced with this responsibility to assess and express the wishes of the European public on CETA, it seems extraordinary that the Parliament would chose to debate the impacts of CETA only in its international trade (INTA) committee on the 5th of December.
CETA touches almost every aspect of European life, with public concerns highest in relation to its impacts on the environment, public health, food safety and consumer protection. It is a lamentable oversight to side-line the public’s representatives in the environment (ENVI) and consumer protection (IMCO) committees – something Green MEP Ska Keller has highlighted.
Commissioner Malmström would have us believe that CETA is a harmless agreement, playing on Canada’s image as a nation of friendly people.
Europeans and Canadians have similar values, she reminds us, so there’s nothing to fear. But this trade deal wasn’t written according to European or Canadian values. Quite the opposite – CETA seeks to shield trade relations from basic democratic principles and parliamentary scrutiny, and undermines the application of laws that protect the public interest in order to maximise the profits of multinational corporations.
TTIP and CETA are two sides of the same coin. MEPs who see TTIP as a danger must recognise the same faults in CETA, and stand on the side of the people they represent, or they risk sinking Europe’s credibility even further.
They must come out against this dodgy deal before it sneaks its way into our law books.