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Sorry mate, nothing doing: the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg. Photo: Transparency International EU Office via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
Sorry mate, nothing doing: the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg. Photo: Transparency International EU Office via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
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We can still stop the toxic EU-Canada trade deal in its tracks

Kevin Smith & Jean Blaylock

24th November 2016

The European Parliament just voted against referring CETA, the EU's toxic trade deal with Canada, for legal scrutiny by the European Court of Justice, write Kevin Smith & Jean Blaylock. But this astonishing decision comes with an important silver lining: 258 MEPs voted in favour, building a platform from which to defeat CETA altogether in the main vote in February.

It doesn't matter to the Eurocrat machine that the CETA trade deal might mean exposing governments to ruthlessly litigious corporations from across the Atlantic, or locking us all into a model of privatised public services for years to come.

One of the most controversial aspects of the toxic trade deals being pushed by the EU is the system of corporate courts.

This is a parallel legal system that enables corporations to sue governments for billions of pounds for passing laws that might harm their profit margins.

Giving corporations a whole raft of legal new powers is not only wildly unpopular with people across Europe, it could very well be incompatible existing judicial systems in Europe.

As Green MEP Yannick Jadot pointed out, "many legal experts, including the German Judges Association, and even an Advocate General of the European Court of Justice, are convinced that any kind of ISDS [corporate courts] system in CETA may be incompatible with EU law."

So if you have a trade deal that would have far-reaching implications for legal systems, surely the sensible thing to do would be to refer it to the experts on those legal systems so they could give it proper scrutiny before giving it the go ahead?

That's exactly what 89 cross-party MEPs tried to do today in the European Parliament, with a motion to refer the corporate court system in the EU-Canada trade deal (CETA) to the European Court of Justice in order for them to make a proper, informed decision as to its legal compatibility with the current judicial systems operating across Europe.

Sounds sensible, right?

Unfortunately, the motion was defeated yesterday, with 258 MEPs voting for the referral, and 419 MEPs voting against. In the UK alone over 6,000 people emailed their MEPs to say that there should be proper legal scrutiny.

Some UK MEPs like Molly Scott Cato (Green), Jude Kirton-Darling (Labour) and Julie Ward (Labour) were part of the original group that had proposed the referral, and five Labour MEPs and all the Green MEPs present voted in support of the referral. But a series of UK MEPs voted to block it, including all Conservative and LibDem MEPs, most Labour MEPs and UKIP's notorious Roger Helmer.

What was particularly underhand about this vote was that pro-CETA MEPs used all sorts of underhand hustles to prevent a debate taking place ahead of the vote. The leadership of the two main parties put a lot of pressure on the MEPs who proposed the motion to withdraw their names, while also manipulating the complex procedures of the parliament to push things through. So those who had concerns didn't get any chance to articulate them.

But why would MEPs vote against something that seems so sensible? The answer is that it is desperation that is prompting MEPs to make such irresponsible decisions.

Brussels has already been burnt after a tidal wave of people power stopped one toxic trade deal in its tracks (TTIP) and there is a sense amongst those who are deeply wedded to the process that they need to push something, anything through now regardless of the consequences.

It doesn't matter to the Eurocrat machine that the trade deal might mean exposing governments to ruthlessly litigious corporations from across the Atlantic, or locking us all into a model of privatised public services for years to come.

The good news: 258 MEPs are on our side

There is some hope. When the Wallonian regional parliament in Belgium held up the signing ceremony last month, one of the concessions that they won, was a promise that Belgium itself would refer the corporate courts system to the European Court of Justice. They are working to a longer time frame and are not making the referral immediately.

As a result we could have the situation where the European Parliament has agreed to CETA but the European Court of Justice later decides it is incompatible with EU law, so everyone has to backtrack and reverse decisions in order to take the corporate courts out of CETA. The MEPs calling for the referral were trying to avoid this situation which would be embarrassing for the parliament, but at least there is still a chance for proper scrutiny.

The other good news is that this vote showed that there were 258 MEPs who have sensibly expressed concerns about the EU-Canada trade deal today. There's a lot of uncertainty as to when the final vote for the ratification of CETA looking will take place, but there's good reason to believe that it might be in February.

So we need to use that time to do all we can to woo a sizeable (but not impossible) number of MEPs over from their 'CETA no matter what the cost' position, to one where they listen to the fact that millions of European citizens think that CETA represents a massive corporate coup.

And then we'll have stopped another toxic trade deal dead in its tracks.

 


 

Take action now: Ask your MEP to stop CETA!

Kevin Smith is the press officer at Global Justice Now.

Jean Blaylock has campaigned on issues around trade and food for the last twelve years. She currently works for Global Justice Now as a policy officer.

This article is an extended version of one originally published by Global Justice Now.

 

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