- Title: Belgian region sticks to firm 'Non' on Canada trade deal
- Date: 21st October 2016
- Summary: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (OCTOBER 21, 2016) (REUTERS) MICHEL, REPORTERS DURING NEWS BRIEFING
- Embargoed: 5th November 2016 15:31
- Keywords: CETA trade Wallonia Magnette EU Canada
- Location: BRUSSELS AND NAMUR, BELGIUM
- City: BRUSSELS AND NAMUR, BELGIUM
- Country: Belgium
- Topics: Government/Politics,International Trade
- Reuters ID: LVA00354Y7SXZ
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: The Belgian region of Wallonia rejected new amendments to a planned EU-Canada free trade agreement on Friday (October 21), reaffirming its opposition and so threatening the entire deal, a flagship of European Union trade policy.
All 28 EU governments support the planned Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), but Belgium cannot give its assent without backing from five sub-federal administrations and French-speaking Wallonia has steadfastly opposed it.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, whose liberal-led coalition wants the deal, said he was still hoping to exit the difficulties.
"I understand well that people are preoccupied by what this means for the future of the European project, for the future of Europe's capacity to seal deals, which, I believe, as far as I am concerned, are important to try to increase added value, growth, job creation while guaranteeing (Quality) standards that are important to the Europeans. I feel this preoccupation. I also feel there is hope around the table that we can exit these difficulties as soon as possible," he told a news briefing following a two-day EU leaders summit in Brussels.
Walloon premier Paul Magnette called an emergency session of his government and addressed the Walloon parliament in the regional capital Namur on Friday.
"Regarding the currently vital issue of international treaties, as citizens have so many legitimate concerns over the way in which the world has opened up and liberalized itself in the past decades -- regarding this issue, there has never been a real democratic debate. It's been done behind the curtains, undergoing speedy ratifications, etcetera. Well, by chance, and due to the three circumstances I mentioned earlier - mixed treaty, parliament with equivalent powers to the national one, and temporary provisional clause - it happened to be us, by pure chance, the parliament that has opened up this debate," Magnette said, adding that he hoped more EU parliaments would follow suit.
Failure to strike a deal with such a like-minded country as Canada would call into question the EU's ability to forge other deals and damage credibility already battered by Britain's vote to leave the bloc and disputes over the migration crisis.
Socialist lawmaker Olga Zrihen said the parliament's firm stance was not about becoming a beacon of the anti-globalisation movement but rather about fulfilling their obligations.
"Well, it is not the fact that we are anti-globalisation, anti-trade. This is the point, if we are a parliament as we are today, with full responsibilities, with whole legitimacy, our job, is really to see what we are giving as prospects to the citizens," she told Reuters.
Wallonia is home to some 3.5 million people, less than one percent of the 507 million Europeans CETA would affect. Its residents reacted with mixed emotions.
"Today I am proud to be a Walloon. I am proud of trying to protect the national and the European economies. Everyone was saying yes, I think someone had to say no. I am proud to be Walloon today," Celine Legrand, a social worker from a nearby city said.
For a Namur resident who refused to be identified, politicians were just putting up a show.
"Nobody knows what this treaty entails. Nobody has seen the clauses, expect some privileged ones. When it comes to knowing whether Wallonia should say yes or no, it's rearguard action. Tomorrow, or during the weekend, they will stop their circus and they will sign as everyone else has," he said.
The CETA pact is set to be signed at an EU-Canada summit on Thursday to be attended by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau but he may cancel soon if there is more delay.
Wallonia's lawmakers share concerns voiced by many on the European left that CETA, and a stalled plan for a similar deal with the United States known as TTIP, risk watering down consumer, labour and environmental protections.
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