CETA: the failure of EU trade policy

After two weeks of intense negotiations between the Belgian federal entities and the Belgian government, an agreement[1] was reached. This agreement unlocked the situation and enabled both the EU and Canada to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) on the 28th October. The CETA is a new generation trade agreement that is aiming at convergence of standards between the EU and Canada in order to completely dismantle non-tariffs barriers.

This is symptomatic of the failure of EU trade policy

This event has made crystal clear that the EU has failed somehow. The fact that a regional entity, which barely trades with Canada, could have blocked such an important deal is astonishing. The lack of EU influential power was obvious to everyone. The EU has counted on the Belgian federal government and Charles Michel, the Prime Minister, to convince the Walloon Parliament and its President Paul Magnette not to veto the ratification of the deal by the Belgian Parliament. This is symptomatic of the failure of EU trade policy.

There are two problems that show this failure. The first one is that the EU negotiates trade agreements with many countries in the world but has not the exclusivity for signing and ratifying them itself. It depends on national heads of state and of government to sign the deal and on national parliaments to ratify it. That creates a tricky situation, which is not useful for the EU. In such a case, any trade agreement could be held hostage by any parliament in the EU such as the Walloon one has done putting EU’s credibility at stake.

The second problem is that the EU badly communicates about the agreements it negotiates. The Commission, which negotiates trade agreements on behalf of the Member states, does not looks like wanting the European citizens to like and to associate with the deals it has negotiated. As a result of such a bad communication, the citizens are suspicious and are willing to reject any deal with a big trade partner such as Canada with CETA or the USA with TTIP. The Commission trade department does not seem to want citizens to feel like they are being heard.

Its dual nature, national and supranational, is an obstacle in the conduct of its commercial policy

What we could see in the case of CETA is the incompletion of the EU itself. Its dual nature, national and supranational, is an obstacle in the conduct of its commercial policy. It would seem logical to have only the Commission and the Parliament responsible for signing and ratifying any trade agreement negotiated by the EU. However, the national or even regional self-interest could jeopardize the success of trade agreements of great consequence.

The EU, and the Commission in particular, should really change the way they communicate and take into account the will and concerns of the European citizens who want to be more involved in the conduct of policy that would affect their lives.

[1] This agreement was the condition sine quo none so that the Walloon Parliament that the Belgian Parliament signs the deal on behalf of the Kingdom of Belgium. This agreement doesn’t really change anything to the treaty. It was a matter of Belgian internal politics and power games.

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