EU and Canada sign Ceta

After seven years of negotiations and wrangling the EU and Canada signed the Ceta free trade agreement on Sunday. The Belgian region of Wallonia dropped its opposition to the deal on Friday - after securing additional concessions. Has the struggle to get the deal signed in the final phase discredited the EU, or is it proof of strong democracy?

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The Economist (GB) /

Negotiating debacle will have a deterrent effect

Even if the Ceta free trade agreement has now been signed the EU hasn't exactly covered itself in glory, The Economist comments:

“The EU’s credibility as a trade negotiator rests on its ability to speak for its members. Without that, the world’s largest consumer market starts to lose its allure. The agonising course of CETA will not quickly be forgotten by potential partners. If boning up on the niceties of Belgian regional politics, or the details of national referendum laws, becomes a prerequisite for negotiating with the EU, they will start to wonder if it is worth the bother. ... Striking a trade deal with a friendly partner like Canada should have been about as easy as it gets for the EU. Few can take heart from this embarrassment.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Wallonia's no was good for democracy

The Wallonians and their Prime Minister Paul Magnette have done the EU a service with their perseverance, Le Soir writes in praise:

“The opposition of the Wallonian region and its superhero PM has rekindled debate on democracy - and that is excellent. This debate is not only good news for democracy but also - and above all - a sign that the balance of powers may shift. ... The return and the revitalisation of democracy at the local level is already a reality, and there is hope that this will also be reflected on the European level where it is badly needed. All too often these parliaments have been accused of only taking into account the interests of the multinationals, to which governments grant tax gifts or other benefits. It is time to remember that they must also listen to the 'grass roots': their voters, the citizens.”

Die Presse (AT) /

EU must preserve lowest common denominator

The row over Ceta has once again highlighted what a critical state the EU is in, die Presse writes and calls for Europe's governments to start focussing on what really matters:

“After initial talk along the lines of 'let's really go for it now', European decision makers have realised (albeit belatedly) that this is not about expanding or deepening the Union but about saving it. Its core is the single market, from which each participant benefits to a greater or lesser extent. This is where EU members learn that it pays to be willing to make compromises. Those who don't want the EU to be stormed by populists must ensure that the common market with its free circulation of goods, services, capital and workers survives unscathed. It is the lowest common denominator without which the EU cannot exist.”

Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

Trade pacts undermine national sovereignty

Corriere del Ticino can't work up any enthusiasm over the fact that Ceta is probably going be signed after all:

“The trade agreement with Canada is the precursor to the TTIP, which has been negotiated behind closed doors for years now. ... Both agreements restrict national sovereignty and the ability of national authorities to represent the interests of their countries. Because they contain a de facto transfer of power to tribunals that settle disputes between states and businesses. The philosophy behind this trade agreement is clear: reduce the power of individual states and hand it over to extrajudicial organisms. ... Not just the parliament of Wallonia (until yesterday) but also Germany's Federal Constitutional Court has stood up to this grave violation of national sovereignty. It demanded that the agreement with Canada contain the option for Berlin to withdraw from the Ceta, should the agreement violate the German constitution.”

The Globe and Mail (CA) /

Canada has boosted its credibility

While the EU faltered, Canada demonstrated unity, coherence and reliability, the Canadian daily The Globe and Mail comments approvingly:

“Rather than a Canadian province going rogue on the deal, as the EU feared, it was a Belgian subnational government threatening to waste seven years of hard work. Surely, Canadian trade negotiators couldn't help but feel the pot had called the kettle black. ... Whatever the ultimate outcome, Canada has gained something. We leave the CETA process looking like a competent, dependable trading partner, a reputation that will pay dividends in the future. ... Canada has proven it can negotiate with a unified and coherent position internationally, even when faced with concerns from provinces, sectors and advocacy groups.”

Le Vif / L'Express (BE) /

Wallonia's victory just symbolic

The success of Wallonia and its minister-president Paul Magnette is being somewhat overstated, Le Vif/L'Express points out:

“The concessions secured with regard to the courts of arbitration between corporations and states were worth the pressure. Now our democratic legal system is protected against parallel structures capable of destroying parts of the legislation by acting in corporate interests. But to speak of a triumph of social values in the face of big business goes a step too far. Notable progress was also made in the agricultural sector, but the protection of an agricultural industry that delivers high-quality produce was already on the agenda of the agreement and the commission (no hormone beef, protected designations of origin ... ). So two essentially symbolic trophies are being held up to justify a fight that might be therapeutic, but won't change the way of the world.”

El País (ES) /

EU must learn from Ceta debacle

The EU needs to learn two lessons from the near failure of the Ceta trade deal, El País warns:

“The first lesson to be learned from this episode is the need to be proactive rather than passive. Particularly on issues which populism can use to co-opt people who feel left behind by globalisation or excessive austerity, or both. … The other big lesson is the need to reflect on solutions for governing Europe that avoid the absurd situation in which a minority of 3.5 million citizens is able to block the will of 508 million - even if they do so for reasons of an internal rather than European nature. For precisely this reason, and because such situations will become increasingly frequent, we need a legal and political solution that applies in all such cases.”