Next week on 15 February the European Parliament will vote on the EU-Canada Agreement CETA. After this vote, the agreement will be applied provisionally and must then be ratified by all Parties to the Agreement, including the 28 EU Member States. The disputed additional protection of foreign investors is expressly excluded from provisional application. Unfortunately, the agreement is expected to be adopted in the plenary of the European Parliament, held in Strasbourg. The Greens and left will vote against CETA, but Christian Democrats, liberals, right-wing conservatives and many Social Democrats are determined to sign the deal, despite protests by trade unions and civil society. This is, of course, a bitter disappointment for civil society active throughout Europe. Nevertheless, this movement has reached into vast swathes of the political landscape throughout Europe, and with CETA and other free trade deals so similar in nature, the political air surrounding their support has become a lot thinner.
But even with the approval of the European Parliament, the agreement has not yet been definitively finalised. On the road to national ratification there are still a lot of stumbling blocks. In the Netherlands, a popular vote is to be expected. In Austria the consent is not secure. The leftist government in Greece could easily sink the agreement. The Belgian region of Wallonia is still threatening a veto in the national ratification process. In Germany, first the Federal Constitutional Court will rule on the agreement, after which it must be decided by the Bundestag and the Bundesrat(Federal Council). CETA currently has no majority in the Federal Council. The state governments with the participation of the Greens and the Left will reject the agreement. This is what the federal Party Conference last autumn demanded with an overwhelming majority. It is well-known that although the state parties have clearly defined themselves in the respective regional elections, the voting behaviour of the Greens in the state governments of Baden-Württemberg, Hesse and Hamburg is unclear. I have – like many other Greens – personally announced several times that a change of course would be completely unacceptable and trigger difficult quarrels. I stand by that. Regardless of this, CETA currently has no majority in the Federal Council, even without Baden-Württemberg, Hessen and Hamburg.
Together with our alliance of civil society organisations and trade unions, we should make European trade policy an election issue. This is not just about a single agreement, but about the blueprint for a new generation of free trade agreements which are based on the wrong model: the global opening of the markets, without anchoring strong social, ecological and democratic rules at the same time. It is not the globalisation of the “ octal market economy” model (“Soziale Marktwirtschaft”) that is reflected in the rules in CETA and other bilateral trade agreements currently being negotiated by the EU. The model embodied in the Treaties is not fair trade, but free trade without a strong regulatory framework – the radical-market variant of globalisation. Obviously, economic isolationism is the opposite of fair trade. Open markets are desirable, but only if democratic rules are globalised at the same time. CETA does not provide this approach, despite all the pleasantries expressed by supporters in recent months. Unfortunately, Martin Schulz and the German SPD, as well as CDU / CSU and FDP, have always supported these agreements.
Recently, many public commentators have suggested that we Greens rethink our critical attitude, due to the new threats of economic isolationism espoused by the new US President. I have published an op-ed to the subject in the Frankfurter Rundschau, which can be read here. To argue in favour of CETA now, due to Trump is after all, absurd. This is because Trump’s election is precisely the result of the social tensions caused by unfettered free-market globalisation, absent of strong social and ecological standards.
Trump: Europe’s opportunity for a new start in trade policy!
Now is the time to push for EU trade agreements based on our values
The threats of the new US President Donald Trump when it comes to trade policy are dangerous. The benefits of new protectionism on your own economy are short-term, and will lead to counter-measures by trading partners. In the end all parties will lose. Mexico, Canada and the US Pacific partners must now decide how to react to Trumps’s new policy. This is a big opportunity for Europe. Here, just as in the USA, globalisation together with accelerated technological change has led to deep social divisions in society.
Civil society groups, trade unions, churches and many companies are rightly dissatisfied with the existing rules on world trade. Although they have opened markets, social and ecological rules have not been globalised. This is also the reason why there is no progress in the World Trade Organisation. More and more people do not want to accept deeper economic globalisation that undermines human rights and does not protect our planet. The strong public protests against TTIP, CETA & Co. have made the rapid deepening of this type of economic globalisation impossible. Now in the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau the social-democratic economists Sebastian Dullien and Jakob von Weizsäcker argues that critics should rethink their resistance. We are told we now must agree to these new trade treaties to save multilateral trading system in the face of Trump’s ‘America First’ policies.
However, TTIP, CETA & Co. follow the same logic that has led to such divisiveness. The markets for services, investments and goods are being opened up without simultaneously setting strong social and ecological standards. Market openings are enforceable before special courts for large companies, while human rights violations and ecological disasters by investors remain unpunished. To agree to this bad deal would be an unforgivable mistake and a missed opportunity. For now, there is the possibility for Europe to negotiate trade treaties with allies that are disappointed by Trump, which actually link up market openings with strong social and ecological rules.
It is only in this way that we can counter the spread of Trump’s dangerous trade policies, without further deepening the divisions in our societies, or strengthening the hand of European populists. For truly European trade agreements must be based on values such as freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. Now is the hour for Europe to take the lead and push through a trade policy that is based on the principle of fair trade, the only truly free trade.
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