The Socialist Group in the European Parliament decided, after much debate, by a large majority, to vote to enable the CETA agreement between the EU and Canada to be applied on a provisional basis, pending ratification by the national parliaments of EU member countries.
This despite some misgivings.
On the one hand, we can claim some significant successes in ensuring that the agreement does not undermine the right to regulate in the public interest, the right to keep sectors in public ownership (or bring them back into it), protections for the environment, an undertaking by Canada to sign up to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions it hasn’t already applied, and a number of other safeguards.
On the other, many doubts were expressed about the investment court (ICS) envisaged by the agreement. But this court will not come into being with the European Parliament’s vote. It will not be part of the provisional application and can only come into force if every national parliament ratifies. It will also be subject to a legal challenge in the European Court, to be brought by the Belgian government.
The proposed investment court would at least be an improvement on the traditional investor-state dispute settlement systems (ISDS) that exist in many trade agreements, which give huge leeway for private arbitration panels to settle challenges brought by investors (read: multinational corporations) against governments. The new proposal is for a public court, with proper full time judges, appointed by public authorities, with a restricted mandate and whose rulings are subject to appeal. But it remains a special court accessible only to foreign investors outside the normal legal system, hence our concerns. But, this will be for national parliaments to decide.
There were other issues that featured in our discussions, from whether loopholes could be found to the safeguards we secured, to the fact that, in the European Parliament, the most vociferous opponents to CETA were the Trump supporters on the far right. The fact that the agreement is supported by every one of the left wing governments in the EU, from the Socialist-Communist coalition in Portugal, to the Swedish Social Democrats, to the Syriza government in Greece, may also have carried some weight, though colleagues also pointed out that, in some countries, trade unions and some NGOs have opposed the deal.
We set out our assessments — positive and negative — in our own motion for resolution.
These controversies will continue as CETA now goes to national parliaments.