Belgium blocks Ceta for time being

The Ceta free trade agreement between the EU and Canada is still hanging in the balance. The deal was supposed to be signed this week but now threatens to fall through owing to the opposition of Wallonia, which is critical of certain aspects of the agreement. Are the Walloons spoiling a major opportunity for Europe or are they the voice of the people?

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Mediapart (FR) /

Canada can only dream of this much democracy

Canadian academics praise the Wallonian parliament for its position on Ceta and call on it to stick to its guns in an open letter published in Mediapart:

“We would have liked it if the Canadians had had a similar debate in the provincial parliaments, but this was not the case either under Harper or under Trudeau. As opposed to the very undiplomatic views expressed by certain Canadian diplomats and business representatives, it seems to us that democracy was exercised responsibly in Belgium to allow members of parliament to vote on quasi-constitutional structures. ... Whatever decision you take, we ask you not to succumb to the same tactics as those used to manipulate the Canadians.”

Club Z (BG) /

Wallonia's resistance reflects well on Europe

It reflects positively on the EU that a comparatively small region like Wallonia can block such an important free trade agreement, columnist Vesselin Yelev comments on news portal Club Z:

“Wallonia's behaviour clearly contradicts the critics who like to compare the European Union with the former Soviet Union. I experienced the days of the Soviet Union and can't remember a single instance of it paying any attention to small, dissenting, disobedient nations. It preferred to send in the tanks. ... As Vladimir Putin, who copies this Soviet tradition, so nicely put it: 'The Russian bear doesn't ask anyone for permission.' Europe is asking for permission. That may make it look slow, ineffective, weak, and at times even ridiculous. Nevertheless everyone wants to live in Europe and not in Russia, China or Turkey, where political decisions are taken and implemented far more efficiently.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Hard times for further integration

Deeper integration of the Union could end Europe's current paralysis but for such a measure the EU lacks the backing of the majority of the population right now, Der Standard concludes with a view to the Ceta debacle:

“To put it bluntly, in the current situation the Union would do well to toss some ballast overboard to avoid crashing. This EU simply doesn't have the strength to take on new burdens. What is asked of it now is less interference and no further extension of EU competences. Basically the idea should be to keep the pillars of the single market more or less intact. Otherwise the whole house threatens to collapse. Anything else would put the ball into the court of right-wing and left-wing populists who are successfully exploiting every real and alleged aberration of the EU. Europe is in bitter need of more integration, but for that it lacks the people's backing. Europe simply won't be rushed.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

EU must be able to act

Democratic decisions can only benefit the EU and its reputation, but the downside is that they could hamstring the Union, Dagens Nyheter believes:

“Wallonia, with its 3.5 million residents, is now blocking an agreement that affects 550 million people. It's inappropriate for members of parliament from this region to be negotiating directly with Canada's government. Foreign trade is one of the EU's core competences, and the Union must be able to act on the issue. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned on Friday that the EU could lose all its credibility if the agreement fails. That sounds plausible. What's more, the Ceta blockade bodes ill for the Brexit negotiations. A quick deal will be vital for Theresa May and the British. Regional saboteurs must be prevented from holding an entire economic zone hostage.”

Kauppalehti (FI) /

Give everyone their fair share of the cake

To convince people of the benefits of globalisation the profits from trade must be distributed more fairly, Kauppalehti demands:

“The EU can't give the decision-making powers for trade policy back to the member states because it is a central task of the EU to turn Europe into a major economic bloc that can compete with the US, India, Asia and especially up-and-coming China. A common trade policy is essential to achieve this goal. The opposition to Ceta and the TTIP reflects a general change in the political mood among Europeans that is aimed at teaching international capitalism a lesson. People have the feeling that the cake that has grown in size thanks to trade is not being divided fairly among the shareholders and those who generate the profits, namely the workers. The politicians must take these concerns seriously and focus on ensuring that the cake is shared out more fairly.”

Le Vif / L'Express (BE) /

Wallonia's No must not go unheard

The Walloon parliament's stance reflects that of lots of Europeans and Canadians too, Le Vif/L'Express stresses, warning that it would not be a good idea to force Ceta on Europe:

“As Brexit has made abundantly clear, the European institutions have never seemed so far removed from the citizens as they do today - citizens who, in growing numbers, are dreaming of a different kind of democracy that is not just made by and for the elites. From citizens who are not remotely convinced of the advantages of the free trade agreement that is to be signed with Canada. From citizens who feel despised by the politicians. … In Quebec and in other European countries there are many who oppose the deal. They have failed to make the politicians listen to them. In Wallonia they have succeeded. Europe is making a grave mistake by attempting to discredit this expression of democracy.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Ceta serves the common good

It would be to the detriment of the common good if Ceta fails, warns De Volkskrant:

“If Ceta fails it will be a major victory for the forces that oppose globalisation, the EU and capitalism. Modern capitalism needs to distribute wealth more evenly. But if the process itself is destroyed, soon there will be nothing left to distribute. An international system which is already being undermined and challenged by China and Russia is also being eroded from within by a monstrous coalition of angry left and right-wing citizens. … Alternative voices must be heard and politicians must be forced to defend their decisions. … But politicians must also ensure that the interests of the public at large triumph over the (frequently well organised) individual interests.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

If not with Canada, then with whom?

Hospodářské noviny is aghast at the prospect of Ceta falling through after seven years of negotiations:

“After the Brexit decision the EU wanted to show that 27 countries can also move forward together. But the shameful dispute over Ceta shows that they are unable even to reach a consensus over the liberalisation of trade with Canada. The Walloons and a few other troublemakers have turned everything on its head. But this is not just about Walloonian farmers who are frightened of GM fruit from Canada. This is about the pan-European protest of people who feel that the globalization train has set off and are unwilling to wave goodbye to the world as they know it, even if it is falling apart. Who else will we be able to do trade deals with in the globalized world, if not with Canada, which shares our cultural values?”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Shape globalisation instead of blocking it

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung also voices disappointment, pointing out that the agreement was negotiated very much in the EU's interests:

“[Canada] supported the EU's idea of investment tribunals for settling conflicts between foreign investors and the host state. This overcomes the weaknesses of the private arbitration courts that have been used until now. All this is very far removed from the distorted image spread by the opponents of the deal, who portray Ceta as a dictatorship of big business which will undermine the rule of law and democracy. Those who can't stop globalisation but want to have a say in what it looks like, need precisely such agreements until multilateral progress is made in the World Trade Organization. Those who reject Ceta must ask themselves whether they are not in fact against any liberalisation of trade, and therefore want to further the interests of economic nationalists. If so, they must be willing to accept the negative impact on growth and employment.”

Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

Populist Walloons ruining everything

Europe is squandering an important opportunity, Jyllands-Posten fears:

“In times when the key players - among them the two presidential candidates in the US - are moving towards protectionism, when global trade is stagnating and global economic growth and the labour market are suffering as a consequence, trade agreements are more important than ever. Since World War II free trade has hoisted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty by creating economic growth and jobs. It would be intolerable if a handful of populist Walloons were able to destroy a far-reaching free-trade agreement like this one, from which the great majority of true Europeans stand to benefit.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Ceta gets to the heart of the Europe debate

De Morgen defends the Walloons against all the criticism:

“What do they think they're doing? people across Europe are saying. We heard the same thing after the Ukraine referendum in the Netherlands, and after the Brexit vote. … Clearly representing the people is regarded as a threat to democracy. … The row over Ceta gets to the heart of the debate about European democracy. Should a member state - or part of a member state - say no when 'Europe' has already said yes? … Whether the Twitter economists like it or not, such 'classic' agreements are no longer supported by a growing section of the European population. The opposition to mega-treaties comes from all kinds of groups, from eurosceptic right-wing populists to red-green voters. … Either legitimate criticism continues to be suppressed or the day will come when the European project really is torpedoed at the polls - as was already the case in England.”