November 01, 2016
German Greens threaten to block Ceta ratification
There is more trouble ahead for the EU/Canada trade agreement, as we predicted, this time not from Belgium but from Germany. The Greens say they will block ratification in the Bundesrat, the upper chamber, and they have a majority to do precisely this.
The provisional application of Ceta has been signed, and this means that maple syrup will get a tad cheaper from next year onwards - a life-changing event for the European economy. The most substantive bits in the treaty - especially the investor tribunals - will not be implemented until the actual treaty is ratified. The Walloons have extracted a commitment by Belgium's federal government that Ceta itself will need to be changed in order to reflect the assurances they received on the investor tribunals, which should turn into ordinary law courts staffed by professional senior judges who apply existing legal principles, and which are open to small and large companies without discrimination. This is not what Canada had in mind. And Canada has so far refused readiness to change the existing agreement.
The German Greens are saying that they will probably reject Ceta, unless the concerns of the Walloons are reflected in the actual treaty - which would necessitate the aforementioned treaty change. FAZ leads this morning with this story, quoting the head of the party, Simone Peter, as saying that she expects the Greens to vote against ratification in the Bundesrat, the upper house. Since the coalitions of which the Greens are part form a blocking majority, this constitutes a real threat to the deal.
The open legal question is whether the German ratification law needs a Bundesrat vote, or whether it can be waved through the Bundestag, the lower house. FAZ quotes Angela Merkel's spokesman as saying that this question was currently being investigated. The paper also quotes interior ministry experts as saying that they are leaning towards subjecting the law to a Bundesrat vote. At the moment, coalitions involving the Greens and the Left, which also rejects Ceta, have 53 votes out 69 in the Bundesrat. It is customary in Germany that senior partners respect the view of junior partners in Bundesrat votes, for otherwise they would sacrifice their coalitions.
The German government estimates that it could take between 2 and 5 years for Ceta to be ratified. But a single no Vote would end this process.
Gunter Bannas, the FAZ's seasoned political commentator, explains in a separate article that there are two types of laws that involve the Bundesrat: those the Bundesrat has to approve with a simple majority of at least 35 votes, and those the Bundesrat can object to a procedure that would trigger an arbitration process. The latter procedure would favour Ceta. But it gets technically more complicated than that. It is possible that Bundesrat and Bundestag disagree on the nature of the legal basis, in which case the whole procedure ends up on the desk of the German president. If Joachim Gauck then signed the law, the decision would undoubtedly be challenged in the constitutional court, which would have another dimension of the Ceta case to consider: whether the Bundesrat can block it.