October 19, 2016
Walloons stand firm
We heard Sigmar Gabriel on the radio yesterday morning, confidently declaring that he expects there would be a deal on Ceta. There was not, of course, as everybody who reads newspapers would have known. In the end, not only Belgium was unable to give the all-clear, so were Bulgaria and Romania, who want to have visa-free travel for their citizens. We understand these issues are likely to be resolved soon. At the end of the meeting in Luxembourg, Gabriel came out and dismissed the events as a mere procedural delay.
We are not so sure. So far the Walloons are holding up under pressure. As Le Soir reports, they have been given until Friday to decide whether or not to accept latest promises and clarifications by the European Commission. But, as we understand, the problem is not a lack of clarifications (there are too many) but the lack of enforceability. The Walloons want legally binding guarantees on certain aspects of the treaty, including on the application of the investor tribunals, to ensure that they do not constitute a form of parallel justice. Le Soir quotes the president of the Walloon assembly as saying that the deputies had put their foot in the door, and they are not just letting go. The region's prime minister, Paul Magnette, noted it was not decent to put his region under such pressure. This is what he had to say:
"We alerted the Commission on our difficulties for a year and now they give us a few days to vote on. This is not respectful. The democratic process in place in Wallonia is without doubt unique, and it is not compatible with the schedule imposed on us...The legal value of the texts we have received so far is of very variable quality. On the sidelines of the treaty itself, these elements are complex, uncoordinated, sometimes binding, sometimes not ... We can not be content with that."
So this does not sound like a guy who has not thought this through. Our own bet that the Walloons will eventually accept a revised treaty, with legally binding guarantees, but this will probably not happen within the given deadlines. The October 27 EU/Canada summit is in doubt. But we don't see any problems with a postponement. And Magnette is right, of course, about the legal problems of the dispute settlement procedures. This issue will almost certainly also come up in the German constitutional court case. A renegotiation of that issue now would reduce the probability of a major upset later on. It may well be that Wallonia's intractable opposition may well end up saving the deal.
We agree with Sven Giegold, MEP, who said yesterday that Ceta was an overarching treaty that sacrifices democratic principles in favour of short-term economic interests. This will not help meet the promise of fairer globalisation.