The Walloon minister president Paul Magnette announced again that his region is ready to block the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada if the Belgian federal government fails to ask for the advice of the EU Court of Justice.
All 28 EU governments back CETA but Belgium’s central government had been prevented from giving consent because it needed approval from sub-federal authorities.
After Belgian politicians agreed to an addendum end of October to allay Wallonia’s concerns, the regional parliament voted to back the deal. The parliaments of Brussels and the Dutch-speaking community also immediately approved.
Wallonia’s Socialist premier, Paul Magnette, who had become a hero to protesters across Europe, said the Belgian negotiations produced a deal he could live with, but asked the federal government to seek advice from the EU Court of Justice.
The Walloon addendum addresses fears that a system to protect foreign investors could strengthen multinationals. It also provides a safeguard clause for farmers.
“With this saga, which I must say made some noise, everybody in Europe knows the Walloon parliament exists,” Magnette said.
The agreement could partially enter force next year, some eight years after talks began, as long as the European Parliament also backs it. It would bring in tariff reductions before national and regional parliaments complete ratification.
The opposition to CETA is part of a growing backlash in the West against globalisation, with the fiercest protests against a proposed EU-U.S. deal best known by its initials, TTIP.
Protesters say TTIP and CETA would strengthen multinationals and degrade food, environmental and labour standards.
The Belgian dispute over CETA reflects a split in the country between a richer, Dutch-speaking north and a largely French-speaking south that has struggled to cope with the decline of its coal and steel industries.
The federal government has just one party from the south, Prime Minister Charles Michel’s MR liberals, the Socialists’ arch-enemies.