David Martin MEP

Labour Member of the European Parliament and one of the six MEPs representing Scotland in Brussels and Strasbourg

Are we facing the slow death of EU trade policy?

CETA may stagger over the line, but will the price be the slow death of EU trade policy? This week’s hurried addition of declarations - still not public - have cluttered the deal and damaged the democratic process, with possibly devastating implications for our credibility as an international economic actor.

They include the so-called German ‘safeguard clause’ which would provide the possibility for the whole deal to be killed, including the parts falling under EU exclusive competence, when one of 38 national and regional parliaments rejects the agreement, even years down the line.

The message to our future trade partners is this: even if you do eventually finish negotiating a deal with us, the whole thing might be unceremoniously dumped at any time. Which other country is seriously looking at CETA now and thinking, “That looks like fun”?

Some will today champion a victory for democracy. After all, the more people who get to have a say on a matter, the more democratic it becomes - or so the argument goes. On the contrary, the rapid growth in veto players unsurprisingly increases the possibility of complete deadlock.

In this case, Wallonia - a region of 3.5 million citizens - is holding back an agreement supported by EU governments representing over 500 million people. Europe’s ability to make decisions is undermined, and special interest groups, regions and states can hold the process hostage.

This is precisely the kind of phenomenon that the European Union was set up to avoid and what sets it apart from other multinational actors.

Of course, trade policy needs parliamentary oversight. The Lisbon Treaty granted extra powers to the European Parliament on trade - we, the representatives of the European people, must give our consent to agreements, and therefore we must be listened to throughout the process.

We aren’t afraid to vote down a bad deal, and indeed we have done - just look at ACTA. But the truth is that the work we have done on CETA has already delivered progressive and tangible results, including the removal of the toxic ISDS from the text.

The irony is that this European Parliament might not have a chance to properly scrutinise these rushed declarations, as they were bolted onto the text in backroom deals by ministers holed up somewhere in Luxembourg. Where is the democracy there?

It is Europe that will be the true loser as the legitimacy of the European Parliament as established by the EU treaties is further undermined and supposed progressives reinforce the idea that national democracy is the only democracy.

 

This article by David Martin appeared in Politico.eu, 19 October 2016

 

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