On October 14 2016, the Belgian parliament voted against CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), one in a series of trade agreements negotiated in private which effectively puts businesses and corporations before anything (including the state and voters). The Belgian government must have support from all regions of the country in order to federally agree to the deal, but the French speaking Walloon region remains opposed to the agreement which threatens their farmers. It would appear that the democratic process once again has represented its people and stopped an agreement -At least that’s how it’s meant to work.
Although the European Parliament President has stated that he wishes to address the final concerns which caused Belgium to vote against CETA, the EU’s track record regarding any agreement which is voted on is very poor. A sentiment best summarized by the President of the EU Commission when discussing the Lisbon treaty “If it’s a Yes, we will say ‘on we go’, and if it’s a No we will say ‘we continue'” as quoted by The Telegraph UK¹.
Indeed it would appear to be a recurring theme throughout the EU, as bureaucratic body repeatedly attempts to consolidate its power over nation states. In France and the Netherlands respectively in 2005, voters rejected EU plans to replace the then EU treaties with the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe. Despite this, the leadership of both countries signed the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, a treaty that is for all intents and purposes, the EU constitution. Instead of applying the treaty as an overt constitution however, the rules and amendments were simply to be added on to existing rules and treaties.
What is CETA anyway? CETA is essentially the foundation for further agreements that means corporations have the ability to do things like sue an entire country for passing a law which may damage a corporation’s profits. This is despite protests and a public consultation regarding CETA and TTIP where 97%¹ of respondents rejected the proposals. The EU, however, has continued to pursue these negotiations in secret regardless.
Governments can and do continue to work with the EU against the wishes of their constituencies by holding referenda, many of which are ‘non binding’, other simply repeated. These include the aforementioned votes by France¹ and the Netherlands¹, Brexit¹, the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine (another Dutch¹ vote with no current action taken) and Ireland¹ (made to vote again¹). But why are these bad? In many cases such as the EU Constitutions, new offices with new powers and little accountability appear time and time again. A familiar pattern emerges from most of the mainstream media illustrating all of the supposed benefits of new treaties and rarely speaking of the costs. In some cases hinting that war, terrorism or other security threats would certainly fill the gap should a vote against the union follow.
CETA and TTIP have not gone unnoticed by many within the EU. Protests have repeatedly emerged against the agreements in many countries including, but not limited to Germany¹, Belgium¹, Poland¹, the Netherlands¹ (Dutch language), and more¹. Despite this, governments around the EU have been continuing on with these agreements, much of which is negotiated behind closed doors. Despite media reports of TTIP and CETA being threatened by these protests, the EU itself seems determined to continue on. These protests are not a new phenomena, they have been going on for years. However many in the public are still not aware of the significance of these ‘open secret’ deals, though it comes as no surprise when the reality is they often benefit large corporations.
It is certainly interesting to see that the voices of the people are becoming inconsequential to democracy. Although at this point, perhaps it is to be expected.
In the words of EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker;
–“There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties”.
¹ Archive links to corresponding articles.