The path appears to be clear for the signing of Ceta, the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between Canada and the EU, after Belgian politicians overcame differences that had prevented a deal being struck.
Ambassadors from 28 EU member states approved a four-page set of concessions from Belgium, including giving the country the right to go to the European court of justice to determine the compatibility of Ceta’s system of investor-state tribunals with EU law.
Another concession provides assurances to the Belgian government that it will be able to assess the agreement’s socio-economic and environmental impact.
Paul Magnette, Wallonia’s minister-president, who has led the opposition to Ceta, commented: “What we managed to get here is important not just for Wallonians, but for all Europeans.”
Chief among Wallonia’s concerns is the impact of exposing its agricultural sector to competition from Canadian farmers.
Various activist groups have also staunchly opposed Ceta and welcomed the Belgian challenge to investor-state tribunals.
“The use of investment tribunals allows companies to sue governments for lost profits if they introduce laws to protect people or the environment,” Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe told the Guardian. “These corporate courts have no place in our democracies.”
Ceta’s creation of a special court has provoked such controversy that the commission has chosen to delay its into force, with EU member states insisting national parliaments have a say on aspects of the deal that concern national competences.
Although a deal now seems to be close, even if the EU and Canada signed the treaty in the coming weeks, Ceta would only become a permanent legal document once at least 38 national and regional parliaments in Europe had ratified it.